Heated testimony, threat of legal action over furloughs dominate BOE meeting

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HONOLULU(KHON2) — A threat of legal action from the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) and emotional testimony over teacher furloughs dominated the Board of Education’s (BOE) meeting on Thursday, Dec. 17.

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Gov. David Ige’s teacher furlough plan forces teachers to take at least one unpaid day off each month, starting Jan. 4.

Ige argued furloughs — that equate to a 9% pay cut for teachers — would prevent layoffs, which he said would hurt teachers and the community even more. The furloughs affect all school workers including educational assistants, front office staff, cafeteria workers, custodians and others.

HGEA Deputy Director Debra Kagawa-Yogi said that the teacher furloughs were implemented illegally.

“This testimony serves as notice to the BOE that HGEA will take all necessary action and seek all appropriate relief to address the DOE’s unilateral implementation of furloughs that were never negotiated with HGEA and are in clear violation of existing collective bargaining agreements and laws,” Kagawa-Yogi said.

The union represents more than 7,000 workers in the Department of Education.

Almost everyone who testified did not mince words about their dissatisfaction with the furlough plan and the detrimental impact it will have

“Hawaii’s public education systems is dying a slow and painful death. It’s basically surviving off of teachers’ good will and big hearts, but I’m warning you, that supply is draining,” Maui High School teacher Jody Kunimitsu said.

BOE Chair Catherine Payne also commented on the long term repercussions.

“We will be dealing with the consequences of our decisions for many years to come. it will take probably a generation to recover,” Payne said.

With congress on the verge of approving a new stimulus package that will likely include money for education, BOE board member Bruce Voss made a plea to the governor to help ease anxiety for those facing cuts.

“I respectfully but strongly urge the governor to immediately rescind his furlough directive to the Department of Education and for the Department to resume bargaining to see how this additional funding would potentially minimize or eliminate potential furloughs or layoffs and preserve instructional days for our students,” Voss said.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the governor’s executive order confirmed the furloughs through February, but that furlough dates were tentative after that.

According to the governor’s plan, furloughs are projected to save around $300 million annually out of the State’s $1.4 billion shortfall.

Correction: A previous version of this story had incorrect information about who HGEA represents. HGEA represents workers in the Department of Education. The story has been corrected. The story was also updated to name some more workers other than teachers who are impacted by the furloughs.

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