BY KRIS COFFIELD – Honorable senators and representatives: Earlier this week, the IMUAlliance released its recommendations for a number of education bills, including HB 945, relating to education.

At that time, we stated our support for amendments proposed by the Senate Committee on Education, including a delay in implementation of Act 167’s instructional time escalation until the end of the upcoming biennium, an exemption for multi-track schools, and a requirement that the Department of Education reassess what constitutes instructional time and the capacity of all schools to comply with a 180-day, 915- to 990-hour (elementary to secondary) school calendar. We stand by those recommendations.

Given the controversy surrounding conference committee discussion on the measure, however, we feel the need to amplify our comments, offering what we believe to be a prudent, and little mentioned, path for progress.

Understandably, education leaders are concerned about the cost of increasing instructional time during a fiscal crisis. According to the Department of Education, implementing Act 167 during the next school year will likely cost between $45 million to $55 million, yet the proposed House draft of the biennium budget reduces funding to the department by $55 million, roughly the same amount. Additionally, members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association are concerned that they will be required to discharge additional duties if a delay is not enacted, at a time when they are being asked by the state to accept a 5 percent reduction in combined benefits and pay. In other words, teachers are concerned about having to perform more work for less pay. So, what are lawmakers to do?

Our suggestion is to split the difference. Instead of suspending implementation of Act 167 for two years, we urge the committee to push back initiation of elevated instruction time by a single year, to the 2012-1013 academic year, while mandating a departmental evaluation of implementation strategies and costs. Specifically, policymakers should task department officials with studying the strategies employed at the 40 schools that already meet the initial requirements of Act 167, to determine if any actions taken at such schools can be exported, expediently and efficaciously, to the overall school system. In conjunction with this proposal, we encourage the committee to consider phasing in instructional time increases over time, as follows: For 2013-2014 school year, at least 50 percent of all public schools, except charter schools and multi-track schools, shall implement a school year of at least 180 days, excluding professional development days and other non-instructional days negotiated pursuant to chapter 89, that shall include 915 instructional hours for elementary schools and 990 hours for secondary schools. For the 2014-15 school year, the percentage of schools comporting themselves with this requirement should increase to 75 percent, with the percentage rising to 100 percent for the 2015-16 school year. Similarly, plans to impose a 190-day, 1048-hour academic calendar could be gradually phased in over the 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 school years. Determination of which schools adopt the new requirement in a given year would come at the discretion of the DOE, in consultation with the Board of Education, complex area superintendents, individual school leaders, and state lawmakers.

To be clear, we disagree with many of the incendiary statements made by the Hawaii State Teachers Association in a recent “call to action” issued to local educators. Though the IMUAlliance agrees that any escalation in work hours should be coupled with contract enhancements, we are concerned that the level of hostility expressed by the union, particularly toward Sen. Jill Tokuda, reflects a misunderstanding of fundamental issues at play. Discussion of delayed implementation of instructional time hikes was prompted, primarily, by the state’s fiscal shortfall, which, as indicated earlier, could lead to a $55 million reduction in the DOE’s operating budget for each year of the upcoming biennium.

Nonetheless, Act 167’s requirements are state law, having been enacted as a safeguard against the adverse consequences of furloughs. If the conference committee rejects an implementation delay, then all of Act 167’s requirements will be immediately effective. Moreover, heated rhetoric about how the current conflagration may impact contract negotiations with HSTA is counterproductive to ongoing budget discussions on multiple levels, since any concessions won by HSTA could be duplicated by HGEA under the latter’s newly acquired “favored nation” status. One possible solution to the “less pay for more work” problem would be for HSTA to accept deferred compensation as part of their new contract, though there has not been indication that this possibility has been put forward during collective bargaining talks.

Again, the IMUAlliance supports a delay in implementation of instructional time increases, ensuring that the state’s education budget, and teachers’ pocketbooks, are not further crippled by heightened labor requirements. We feel that a one-year delay and graduated implementation constitute an acceptable compromise, however, and humbly suggest that conferees contemplate the merits of such a plan. Mahalo for reading these comments.

Kris Coffield is the Legislative Director for IMUAlliance