By Lisa Kubota
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The tentative agreement reached by the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association could help to save federal education funds. Governor Neil Abercrombie said he spoke to Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan by phone on Monday about the proposed contract.
A team from Hawaii will travel to Washington, D.C. this week. Members will discuss the $75 million Race to the Top grant which is now in jeopardy, partly due to the labor dispute.
Abercrombie said the parties had been working together, hoping to reaching a deal before the start of the legislative session. Specific terms of the six-year contract still haven't been released, but the agreement includes furlough days for teachers that don't involve instructional time. Incremental pay raises start in 2013.
"We're looking at trying to compensate teachers as they should be. Obviously, it's never been anybody's intention to have to hold back on salaries and compensation. Economic necessity forced us into a situation for awhile where we had to get some labor savings in order to balance the budget, in order to obey the law," said Abercrombie.
Also under the agreement, there will be no random drug testing.
"It's not an issue for me. If someone commits crimes, they should be prosecuted according to the law, but I'm presuming, as I do with every civil servant, that every public employee, including myself, that we obey the law," Abercrombie said.
Federal officials warned last month that Hawaii was in jeopardy of losing federal funding. On Monday, the governor said that he is encouraged about this week's trip after his conversation with Duncan.
"From our conversation today, I feel very confident in saying that he's very pleased with the progress we've made, and I think we'll be going up to Washington as a team, whether its members of the HSTA, the DOE, or our administration," Abercrombie said.
HSTA has scheduled a ratification vote on January 19.
The governor said if everything goes well with the contract, he expects the union's pending litigation before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to resolve itself.