Hawaii gov's plan would restore classroom days

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2009 12:41 AM

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle proposed a plan Sunday to end the state's hotly disputed teacher furloughs starting in January, using a rainy day budget fund and converting planning days for teachers into regular classroom time to cancel a 10 percent reduction in school days.

Lingle unveiled her plan at a news conference at the Capitol, saying it would restore 27 school days that were to be lost to Friday furloughs between January 2010 and June 2011.

Seven furlough days set for 2009 would remain in place.

Lingle proposed paying for a dozen of the former furlough days by taking an estimated $50 million from the Emergency Budget Reserve Fund, which would require approval from the state Legislature.

She said Sunday she would consider calling a special session if there was a consensus that the emergency funds would be approved. The Legislature isn't scheduled to reconvene until mid-January.

The 15 other days are slated for teacher planning and training, but not teaching. Lingle's plan would restore them to teaching days.

That change would require the reopening of labor negotiations between the state Board of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, who agreed to the furloughs under their current contract to deal with the state's substantial budget shortfall.

The furloughs, which began in October, brought criticism from parents, spurred a pair of federal lawsuits and prompted comments from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that it would be a "heck of a challenge" for Hawaii to qualify for between $20 million and $75 million in federal "Race to the Top" competitive grants next year.

"I don't know anyone who can make a case that eliminating 10 percent of your school days is good for the children of Hawaii," Duncan said Thursday in a teleconference.

Lingle, who was on a two-week trip to China as the rancor over the furloughs grew, said her proposal was not influenced by Duncan's comments. But she took the chance when asked about them Sunday to lash out at the secretary.

"I was very surprised by his remarks. I thought they were blatantly political," she said. "I think him involving himself in a local issue like this was not appropriate."

Lingle said watching the debate from a distance moved her to change her mind on emergency funding, which she had previously opposed using.