Letter: Lingle must bring parties together for child-focused solution to furloughs

Letter to the Editor

Hawaii needs a governor who can demonstrate the necessary leadership to bring diverse parties together, not keep them apart by creating an adversarial environment as is now occurring over the State’s furlough Fridays stalemate. The students are not pawns and the media is not the place to negotiate labor disputes. Everybody in this sad debacle looks bad, and the altruistic image of our teachers has suffered locally and the favorable image of our entire state has suffered in the eyes of the nation.

In November 2009, Gov. Linda Lingle originally proposed to use the “Rainy Day” fund—also known as the Emergency and Budget Reserve Fund—- to pay for the teacher furlough decision, which she agreed to in the first place. There was a more immediate and transparent solution, however, to pay for any portion of the furlough days.

The governor restricted 13.85 percent of the Department of Education budget (Governor’s Executive Memorandum 09-05, dated August 20, 2009), reducing the DOE’s operating budget by $134 million for FY 2010. She has always had the power to rescind that restriction on money that the Legislature appropriated when it passed a balanced budget in May 2009. Rescinding the restriction did not require a special legislative session or more delays.

Although the Legislature disagreed initially with using the “Rainy Day” fund to balance the 2009 budget, a portion was eventually used to fund critical adult mental health services in the DOE and the operations of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.

The governor has always had the authority to transfer money from special funds—and the ability to rescind her restriction that created the furlough days in the first place.

It’s true that all State employees need to contribute to reducing the State’s fiscal crisis and although teachers, administrators, and support staff are willing to bear their share of reductions, eliminating instructional days is simply unacceptable to achieve the necessary financial cuts. In fact, the DOE should be ensuring that our children receive the minimum number of instructional hours annually.

Our governor must bring all parties together to work out a child-centered solution to replace furlough Fridays while still reducing expenditures in the DOE. We need leadership that will unite Hawaii’s creative thinking adults to implement cost-saving options without sacrificing our children’s future education.

State Representative Lyla Berg
Vice-Chair, House Education Committee