HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The House and Senate Republican Caucus is urging the Hawaii State Teachers Association to rework its (relatively new) contract with the Department of Education. GOP lawmakers want the HSTA and DOE to scrap the teachers' existing contract and negotiate a new deal that will end furlough Fridays.
"Number one is no cuts to the classroom," said House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan.
"We're focusing in on wanting to re-open the contract," she added.
In September the teachers ratified a contract that calls for them to take 17 furlough days in the current school year and 17 furlough days again next school year. The furloughs have reduced teacher take-home pay by about 8%. Most public schools have had to close on furlough days.
Finnegan acknowledges a new contract would most likely result teacher layoffs and / or pay cuts in lieu of furloughs.
"You'll see us making very difficult decisions whether it be programs or positions, but we have to keep that instructional time with the student sacred," Finnegan added.
Governor Linda Lingle has said she is receptive to the idea of negotiating a new contract with the HSTA. She has suggested teachers take a 5% pay cut instead of the furloughs (which are costing them about 8%).
The Department of Education released the following statement late Monday afternoon.
"The Department is encouraged by the number of parents, community members, and lawmakers who are working together to come up with financial and other solutions to furlough Fridays. The DOE is willing to return to the bargaining table to discuss viable options to restore instructional days."
The HSTA responded to the call for a new contract with the following statement from interim Executive Director Dwight Takeno.
"What could be achieved by reopening negotiations? It's our understanding that none of the proposed solutions addresses the core problem: insufficient funds and the budgetary cuts imposed on the DOE," Takeno said.
"If furloughs are halted, without additional funds, the operational costs of utilities, transportation, safety, cafeteria and custodial services will be incurred, and the DOE will not be able to meet its operational needs due to their restricted budget. In that case, schools would run out of money early and have to shut down," Takeno said. "The other option would be to lay off thousands of employees, as the Superintendent indicated. This would increase class size dramatically and severely impact the ability of students to receive individual attention. Furthermore, this will have a significant detrimental effect on hiring and retaining new and incoming teachers. And there's already a critical shortage of teachers in Hawaii's schools."
The new contract covering 29,600 members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association complicates the situation. That contract runs parallel with the HSTA contract.
HGEA members including school principals, office staff, school nurses, and other workers now have the same furlough days as the teachers. So even if the teachers returned, other staff would not be on campus (unless the HGEA also re-negotiated its contract).