Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

November 5, 2009

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Hawaii’s Days of Infamy

By Robert A. Teegarden

In the early days of the 2009-10 school year, Hawaii’s Governor Lingle, the teachers’ union (HGEA) and the state board of education all agreed to a new contract. There was going to be a 14% spending restriction and a 7.9% paycut; like so many other states, Hawaii is reeling in red ink because of overspending and poor planning.  But for so-called professional educators, their solution is a disgrace; one might even go so far to say that it borders on infamy.

What was the quid pro quo for these spending and pay cuts?  What did they exchange for the so-called budget “shortfall?” Teachers got 17 furlough days; students lost 17 days from their ever-shrinking academic calendar—they’re down to 163 “contact” days—days when they can come into contact with teachers.  This has to be a worst case scenario in the world of compulsory government education. The students had no choice.

This is kind of like buying a new car.  Two weeks after you’ve driven it home, the dealer calls up and says, “Oh, but the way… we’re coming by next week to take back your two front wheels and tires.”

A myriad of questions jump to mind.  The union, the state board of education and Governor Lingle all agreed to this furlough idea.  But who represented the students in all these discussions?  Who represented the consumers/customers? I don’t recall seeing them at any of the bargaining tables. Last year students in Hawaii only attended 178 days a year.  At this rate we may soon have double-digit days in school.  I wonder how much the test results will improve then?  The state’s compulsory education codes provide a variety of specific options for students to miss school days; nowhere does it allow furlough days due to budgets. The interesting thing about compulsory attendance laws is this.  A parent can suffer a misdemeanor if s/he does not provide for their children’s education.  If the teachers’ union does not provide, it’s called a furlough.  The voice of parents (and students) is only now just being heard—after the fact, after the deeds have been done.  But in the original contract negotiations, the parents and students had no choice.

Hawaii’s measures of academic progress are abysmal. They hover near the 50th of 50 states in most measures of academic progress. So what is the answer to these academic challenges and the current fiscal crises?  Minimize student-contact by 17 more days.

 “Furlough” is an interesting choice of words.  Sounds like they kind of have to. Sounds like time off for good behavior.  I wonder if any teacher just said, “These are lean times. I want to be a teacher. I’ll teach for less—though I’m worth more. Keep the kids in school.”  Just how many got shouted down by their peers when they suggested that this is one of those down times that comes with civil service?  How many teachers are going to teach anyway?  Or will they be crossing a picket line.

It’s amazing to me.  The bulk of educational journals today stress the importance of the teacher-student relationship. So what’s the first thing we cut during lean economic times?  And in order to make ends meet what’s the #1 thing the professionals agree to—time away from the students they asked to serve. How about the vast majority of  “teachers” who aren’t teaching? How about the five-fold increase in administrators and directors?  Why is classroom time the last thing to get funded and the first thing to get cut?

Why didn’t the school department have a rainy day fund for exactly these kinds of days?  Why didn’t the state?

By the way, which day did they take off?  Friday, of course. Let’s see… who does this benefit?  It creates a three-day gap of academic discontinuity for the students but it does give the teachers 17 more three-day weekends. Being in Hawaii, what more could one ask?   

What about all those Friday night football games?  If the teachers are furloughed on Fridays and students aren’t in school, how can they have a school-sponsored event on the same day?  Exceptions were made.

Will eight percent of the sports programs be cut as well?  Will so called “field trips” be cut as well? Will administration and central services be cut?

All of the above is argument to get government out of the business of providing education.  Because of politics school policies take drastic reversals every four years. The soulcraft called education should not be subjected to the vagaries of partisan politics, political irresponsibility, or economic roller-coasters.  This year’s education dollars should be stuffed into each student’s backpack and it should follow that student to the school of their choice.   We need to cut out all the middle men who say they speak on behalf of students—but who really don’t. 

            Next year they’re planning 24 furlough days, they say, because of the budget.  Why don’t they just close all the schools for the year.  That’ll save a tremendous portion of the budget.  And if they tested all the kids upon adjournment this year and coming back to school a year from now, I’m wondering if the test results might improve.

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