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State offers teachers deal; union wants talks

March 20, 2012
By AUDREY McAVOY , The Associated Press

HONOLULU - Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday blasted the latest contract proposal by the union representing Hawaii public school teachers as "fiscally irresponsible" and urged educators to accept a settlement offer submitted by the administration. The Hawaii State Teachers Association responded that it wants to return to negotiations.

The union submitted its latest contract proposal to the administration Feb. 28, after members rejected a contract in January that would have paved the way for promised education reforms but included an evaluation system that teachers weren't comfortable with.

Abercrombie sharply criticized the union's effort.

"The HSTA proposal is fiscally irresponsible and devoid of reasonable policy regarding standards and performance," he said in a statement.

The administration's priority is collective bargaining that is financially sound and that advances student achievement and support for teachers, he said.

Wil Okabe, the association's president, said the proposal reflects feedback the union received while surveying 13,000 teachers over two weeks earlier this year.

The union's proposal isn't fiscally irresponsible, he said, noting the Council of Revenues, which forecasts tax income for the state, has said the economy is steadily improving.

"Teachers have already taken pay cuts for three years. Teachers have to pay more and more for their health coverage. Teachers have made sacrifices, done their part to help the state. And we shouldn't have to apologize for trying to improve the conditions for teachers," he said.

Okabe said he looks forward to hearing what dates the administration proposes for negotiations.

The governor's spokeswoman, Donalyn Dela Cruz, said the offer the administration delivered Friday wasn't a counterproposal. Since the two sides have been negotiating since 2010, there were no "new concepts in this offer that HSTA is not familiar with," she said.

The administration didn't release details of the offer, but the governor said the proposed performance-based evaluation system would prevent "arbitrary personnel consequences." Abercrombie said the proposal would improve a probation and evaluation system for teachers hired in the future.

A lack of details on the proposed performance evaluation system led some Hawaii public school teachers to vote against the contract in January, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday, citing a recent survey of 250 teachers funded by the Castle Foundation.

About 54 percent of teachers surveyed said they rejected the proposal because of a lack of information or because they didn't understand the terms. About one-fifth said they voted against it because of continued 5 percent wage cuts and 11 percent rejected it because of provisions for evaluations that would take into account student growth.

The Ward Research survey has a margin of error of 6.2 percentage points.

Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said the survey shows teachers welcome performance feedback but need to understand the system.

Hawaii is under pressure to reach an agreement with the union so it can implement federal education reforms funded by a $75 million "Race to the Top" grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The federal government in December admonished Hawaii for its "unsatisfactory" performance with the grant and said the state could lose its money if it didn't improve. Members of the federal Race to the Top team are due to visit the islands next week.

State education officials have acknowledged struggling with timelines and the challenges of moving forward without a formalized labor agreement.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jill Tokuda said she's hopeful a return to the bargaining table will lead to a contract agreement.

"I think all of us would just really like to see this resolved sooner rather than later," she said. "That's in the best interests of our children."

In the event collective bargaining doesn't work, the committee on Monday advanced a bill giving the Department of Education legal authority to establish a performance evaluation system. "To do nothing is not an option," Tokuda said.



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