Hawaii public school educators fight back against furloughs

Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 at 11:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school educators are fighting to block the state’s furlough plan.

Governor David Ige said it’s needed to save jobs in the long run. However, teachers say forcing them to take days off is illegal and they plan to take legal action.

“What the governor and the DOE are doing is implementing furloughs which violates our collective bargaining agreement. The state constitution of Hawaii protects protective bargaining and to implement this over the wishes of the union’s, especially HSTA, we believe is illegal,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee.

Rosenlee said 1,000 teachers could lose their jobs because of budget cuts in addition to the furloughs. He said the governor has other options.

“It’s very likely that my position at my school will have to be cut because of budget cuts,” said Lisa Morrison, Maui Waena Intermediate School Student Activities Coordinator.

Morrison said after 14 years in education, she feels betrayed.

“When Governor Ige was running for re-election, I campaigned for him. I walked in the Makawao Parade in the rain with my children to elect him and he’s turned his back on teachers,” Morrison said.

The state is facing an unprecedented budget shortfall of $1.4 billion in the next year.

The Department of Education is doing its part by cutting $165 million.

Teachers were told this week they could face between six to 10 unpaid days off over the next few months.

In a letter to DOE employees, Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said, “the governor’s authority to require furloughs is based upon the inherent and reserved rights of public employers as recognized under Hawaii law, the Governor’s inherent emergency powers…”

The Board of Education Chair said the decision has long-lasting effects.

“If we don’t have the right people teaching our children, and we don’t take care of our most needy children, then we’re going to have a compounding of problems that will cost Hawaii a great deal in the future in social services, health services and criminal justice services. Education is the foundation for addressing those problems and if we cut the children then we’re going to have much more expensive problems later,” said Catherine Payne.

Meantime, Hawaii U.S. Senator Brian Schatz is hoping congress will reach a deal to send more money to help the states, and schools, ride out the pandemic.

“We don’t know the exact dollar amount. We’re still in negotiations. We don’t have a bill yet. But we’re getting closer and closer and closer, and the list of things that Republicans and Democrats now agree upon continues to grow,” said Schatz.

The Board of Education has a meeting on Thursday. Payne said there are already 175 pages of testimony already. She is encouraging more people to speak up.

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