Hawaii Legislature, Teachers Union, Battle Over Instructional Time in the Classroom

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Parents were angered when Hawaii had the lowest number of school instructional days in the nation since teacher furlough days were instituted in 2009 because of budget cuts.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Hawaii legislature agreed in 2011 to raid the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund of $60 million to restore instructional days from 166 to 180 for this school year.


That action coincides with a law passed in 2010 mandates that the Department of Education return to 180 classroom instructional days. However, Act 167 has to be implemented.

Still to be negotiated is how soon all of the state’s public schools will meet their instructional minutes in the classroom requirement and if there will be an additional cost to taxpayers via Hawaii State Teacher Associations negotiations over salaries and benefits.

The Imua Alliance details as “the gradual return to 180 days through 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.”

Senate education committee chairman, Jill Tokuda, D-24th (Kaneohe, Kaneohe MCAB, Kailua, Enchanted Lake), who has been supportive of HSTA and teachers in the public school system, came under fire publicly in recent days by HSTA for pushing the implementation of Act 167.

“House Education Chair Roy Takumi and myself made it publicly clear that we want to make a good faith effort to comply with some of the provisions in Act 167. Instead of just pushing back the implementation date, we want to see if can’t do better. Some schools already complying, while some are further out. We are trying to get information from the the DOE on how can we more, what is possible, what is feasible, what solutions create ‘wins’ for everyone and what can we do without breaking the backs of our schools financially,” Tokuda told Hawaii Reporter.

Tokuda said she looks forward to civil discussions with all parties, including the union. She said she was “really caught off guard” by the union’s email blast campaign launched against her which centered around discussions during conference committee negotiations.

Part of the debate also is what constitutes instructional time – band practice or robotics competitions outside school? “We need to have a broader discussion on what truly results in student achievement, what is instructional time, where does learning take place and what are the teachable moments?” Tokuda said.

Another question is how the school days can be organized to meet the school instructional minutes requirements.

While other state departments are facing mandatory 10 percent spending restrictions, the HSTA is seeking an estimated $55 million plus the $60 million already raided from the Hurricane Relief Fund for teacher salaries and benefits.

She said negotiations can move forward “if we agree we care about our kids and our schools and focus on that instead of what divides us. We have to start by talking to each other.”

An email from Kris Coffield, legislative director for the Imua Alliance, defends Tokuda: “In the past week, public attention has been directed toward ongoing discussion of HB 945’s attempt to comport instructional time increases with the constrictions of the state’s budget deficit. Much of the controversy stems from a “call to action” issued by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which unfairly criticized Sen. Jill Tokuda for attempting to increase instructional time at a time when teachers are being asked to take a 5 percent cut in combined benefits and pay. While the IMUAlliance shares many of HSTA’s concerns and believes that increased labor requirements should be coupled with corresponding contract enhancements at some point, we feel that the hostility expressed by HSTA runs counterproductive to instructional time, budget, and contract negotiations.”

The alliance offers a compromise, “in which instructional time increases are delayed by a single year, then phased in at a graduated rate, with the percentage of schools required to comport with new requirements escalating over a period of three years.”

Final negotiations must be wrapped up this week. The session ends May 5 and final voting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3.

Lawmakers say the public has been increasingly restive by non action by the Department of Education, teachers’ union, and legislature in restoring instructional days.

That should be a concern for all Hawaii politicians since then Gov. Linda Lingle was largely blamed for instituting furlough days in 2009, and many political analysts believe that parents’ anger over shorter school years was a major reason that her lieutenant governor, Duke Aiona, lost the gubernatorial election to Neil Abercrombie in 2010.