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Gecko joins community in furlough fight

By Staff | Oct 22, 2009

At a Furlough Friday rally last week Thursday in front of Lahaina Cannery Mall, Rep. Angus McKelvey urged motorists to call Gov. Linda Lingle to work to restore the school days. Other signs urged the public to call McKelvey and West Maui Sen. Roz Baker. Photo by Norm Bezane.

LAHAINA — Kapana Gecko, the friend of this column who lives near Lahaina Public Library — like schools, also under siege — has a bug up his ear, so to speak, about teacher furloughs.

A strong advocate of improving education, Gecko has been keeping up with a grim situation — the state has cut 17 days from the school year because of its budget crunch. Teachers will have 17 days less to teach and students 17 days less to learn. Children being left behind will become even further behind.

Gecko agrees with a friend who maintains that if Barack Obama had attended Hawaii public schools, he would not have learned enough to be elected president. Some would like that outcome, but the majority of voters who elected our native son would not.

Gecko wonders why our leaders, state officials, legislators and union representatives have failed to fight for the students and find workable solutions. So we asked some of our “public servants,” as well as the people, about the impact of the furloughs and possible solutions.

So, in the words teachers use to start achievement tests, let’s begin:

“The teacher furloughs are yet another hit on our kids’ education opportunities. They will just add to the already abysmal learning conditions in Hawaii. The governor and legislature do not have the authority to direct how the DOE (Department of Education) and BOE (Board of Education) handle the budget cuts, as far as I understand. The solution would be to furlough the administration levels and leave the teachers alone. Keep the already short, four-and-a-half-day schedule and let the administration rotate their furlough days. Seems logical to me,” said Don Couch of Kihei.

“Everyone at the instructional level should be left in the classroom where they belong, and the cuts, furloughs or otherwise should be borne entirely by the bloated DOE administration. What is the teacher-to-bureaucrat ratio? The HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association) union officials, who are sitting on their duffs protecting the status quo, also need a wake up call. Teach or move on, so the money goes where it is needed the most,” said Jim Hentz of Wailuku.

“The impact of the furloughs falls heaviest on the low-income and working families that are already struggling in this fierce economy.  There is NO MONEY in my family budget for furloughed days. I have NO PAID days reserved for ‘Furlough Fridays.’ This will leave my children unattended on these days. It is a completely unsafe option, but it is my ONLY OPTION. Should something happen to them on these unsupervised days, that would be an uncertain and potentially dangerous impact of the furloughs, not to mention that they will not take it upon themselves to study and keep up with learning the way that others have suggested would ‘lessen the impact.’ I have to go to work, and they need supervision and EDUCATION all at the same time,” said Jill Eckenrode of Lahaina.

“A society that does not hold its children’s education in the highest regard is destined to fail. I think the ones that caused this should first apologize to the school children of Hawaii for using them as political pawns, and then welcome them back to regular school with assurances that their education will not be tossed about in the political salad,” said Karl Stolmeier of Kahului.

“Our governor and our legislature need to put politics aside and work together to solve this problem. If enough people voice dismay about cutting school days, the governor needs to call a special session, like she did for the Superferry. She could also take from the Hurricane Fund. There are multiple ways to deal with the problem. The U.S. Department of Education has started a Race to the Top Fund to provide competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; implementing ambitious plans in the four education reform areas described in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The states can apply for $4.3 billion in aid. The Hawaii DOE, BOE and our union have been working hard to fill out the paperwork. The state could receive $200 million. The governor has been reluctant to follow through. The legislature gave the same amount of money this year to education as last. Everyone needs to blast the governor’s office and state representatives and senators with letters and phone calls, as well as letters to the editor in every paper. Democracy only works when everyone gets involved,” said Justin Hughey of Lahaina, teacher and union representative.

“Until a large, strong, well-organized, grassroots group of parents and businesses demand that the legislature take responsibility and the system be changed to make the education of the children the priority, nothing is going to happen. This movement would require the long-term support of every parent in the system and the participation of small/large business. Our economy will be seriously affected by this,” said Diane Pure of Kaanapali.

“Teachers should volunteer one day a week until the state gets back in the black,” said Linda Reed of  Lahaina.

“The furlough days, along with all the holidays and breaks throughout the year, disrupt the weekly rhythm of teaching and learning patterns for both teachers and students. For every day missed, it takes 3-4 days to get back into the routine. It is my understanding that it is the DOE and BOE who make the final decisions. It’s out of the hands of the Governor’s Office. There are people in the legislature who are very concerned, but no one is listening or taking a leadership position,” said a connected citizen who reported that things are too political to be identified by name.

“I have met many teachers as a Rotarian, and mostly the ones that I have met are passionate about teaching children. Our children are already latchkey kids, and anything that puts our children more at risk is… risky. The governor… only has control of the pursestrings, as I understand it. The DOE mandates what will or will not be done with the dollars. I have been told that there are 35,000 employees in the DOE, yet only 12,000 or 13,000 teachers in the classrooms. The legislature could mandate a minimum number of school days for the children, which I believe they do in many municipalities, but we do not in Hawaii, that would force the DOE to perhaps make other decisions. A long-term solution must come from accountability on how the dollars are spent,” said Charles Keoho of Lahaina.

Gecko said he is encouraged by the thoughtful views expressed in his friend’s column. He thinks the old excuse — “We can’t fix this because of politics or personalities” — doesn’t wash.

At last report, he was preparing a tiny protest sign for a rally by Lahaina Cannery Mall on Oct. 14, but with little hope motorists will be able to see it. He hopes he won’t be stepped on — as the school kids have been — at the rally.