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Bluff Needs To Be Called In Teachers’ Contract

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By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 4/18/10)

As the legislative session winds down, lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment calling for an appointed board of education and/or an appointed superintendent of education.

This action comes at the behest of not only the current governor but at the recommendation of the past three living governors. Certainly the current stalemate over resolving “furlough Fridays” underscores the key issue that has somehow been lost on the parents who have decided to pressure the governor into sitting down face to face in the teachers’ negotiations.

The Board of Education and the teachers’ union, together with the governor’s representative or chief negotiator, hammered out a compromise based on what each party has to offer. In other times, there has been some latitude in the offers or the proposals, but in these challenging economic times all parties must recognize that the pit is not bottomless. That is what is missing in the negotiations and more recently the protests, that the governor should accept the proposition that has been agreed to by the Board of Education and the teachers’ union.

What the protesting parents don’t seem to recognize is that in their protest of the governor’s stand, they have, in essence, taken sides with the teachers’ union and the Board of Education. The problem is that like the teachers’ union and the Board of Education, the parents don’t realize that somehow that proposal has to be funded. The focus is very narrow without consideration for what is happening across the board in state and county governments.

Public employees in all other areas are fraught with anxiety in the fear that they may lose their jobs even though they have already taken reductions in their take home pay as a result of “furlough Fridays” because there just isn’t enough money to keep their departments operating as usual. Nonprofit social service and health organizations have had to lay off workers as contracts are cancelled or the amount to pay for those services is cut. In some cases some of the nonprofit organizations have continued to provide services while waiting for receivables to be paid. Some organizations have reported that the state has not paid them for four or five months and that they are near to having no funds to keep their doors open.

On the other hand, we have learned that the state tied up some of its funds in investments that now cannot be liquidated and in some cases have lost their principal value. Combine that situation with a sluggish economy, and one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the money is just not there to carry on business as usual for state programs and services.

Thus, the governor has a legitimate point in refusing to agree to bring all workers at the school back to work. Bringing nonessential workers back to schools like secretaries, clerks and gardeners, etc., would add $30 million more to the tab of restoring furlough Fridays at the schools. That is $30 million that will have to be cut in other departments or programs. And if those other programs can’t be cut, where then will that money be found?

While everyone would like to believe that money could be found, be it from the state’s “rainy day” fund or the hurricane relief fund, those are just one-time fixes. What does state government do next year if the state’s economy doesn’t come roaring back in the next few months? Both local and national observers are very cautious about that latter point, saying that it will be later next year, if not the following year, before there is any kind of robustness in the economy. While some are cheering the fact that tax collections are beginning to turn around, coming in at minus 1.6% rather than the forecasted minus 2.5%, they forget that those numbers do not include the delay of tax refunds which are estimated to amount to more than $200 million.

Thus, while protesting parents may gain public sympathy, their protests reflect they are ignoring the fact that the state’s economy is in the tank and there is no money to be had to pay all the state’s bills. If parents are going to occupy the governor’s office, why not the health and human service providers or the prison guards at the Halawa facility or those who were laid off from Kulani Camp, or the doctors who have seen their Medicaid reimbursements delayed or cut?

Pointing the finger at only one side of the negotiating table is taking sides with the other side of the table. Parents should instead demand that both sides return to the table to find a solution that will resolve “furlough Fridays” using what limited resources are available.

Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Mr. Kalapa’s commentary is printed each week in the Maui News, West Hawaii Today, Garden Isle News, and the HawaiiReporter.com.


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