Teachers and unions push back, say state employee furloughs could hinder students in 2021

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Governor David Ige announced that thousands of state employees will be furloughed starting on Jan. 1, 2021. This will also affect public school and University of Hawaii employees.

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Leilehua High School Teacher Jonathan Hinderer said stress levels are already at an all-time high having to teach amid the COVID-19 pandemic and facing public school budget cuts in 2021. He said a salary cut is something teachers hoped they wouldn’t have to face.

“In times of great crisis teachers tend to rise to the occasion. More than once, have we been asked to do that this year,” said Hinderer. “At some point there’s a breaking point. And we can only ask so much of our public school teachers until it all falls apart.”

“We’re at a crisis, and these cuts, these salary cuts are going to hurt. And I don’t necessarily see anything positive coming out of this.”

Jonathan Hinderer, Leilehua High School Teacher

Hinderer said teachers have reached that breaking point.

About 22,000 Hawaii Department of Education employees, including teachers, will see a salary cut of about 9.2 percent under the furlough.

He said this will force many teachers who already don’t have a second job to find one.

“I mean a 9.2, at the minimum, percent pay cut erodes nearly six years of pay increases. For me personally, I’m a fairly new teacher, this is my sixth year. So, it’s basically starting from ground zero all over again,” said Hinderer.

However, he said the ultimate loss is for students. Hinderer said extra-curricular programs and athletics could suffer.

“Unfortunately, due to these cuts. I do have to re-evaluate my time spent … The program that I run (speech and debate team), yes, that does cost me some money out of pocket, so I most certainly have to re-evaluate my participation in that activity.”

Jonathan Hinderer, Leilehua High School Teacher

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) said they are planning to fight the furlough.  

“Eleven years ago we had furlough Fridays, and we learned our lesson,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president. “Not only were furlough Fridays bad for our keiki, it was bad for our economy, it was bad for our teachers, and this led to the teacher shortage crisis that we had, where we have, you know, over 1,000 positions that cannot be filled on a yearly basis.”

The state Department of Education said it doesn’t have the details yet on how the furlough will impact employees.

When it comes to higher education, about 3,500 University of Hawaii employees under the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) could be furloughed.

Christian Fern, UHPA executive director said the furloughs could possibly throw a wrench in a students’ path towards graduation.

“There could be less classes potentially offered. So students will have less availability to, you know, (to) potentially reach their pathway to their preferred graduation date,” said Fern.

University of Hawaii president David Lassner said in a message to employees that details of how the furlough will be implemented are still forthcoming. Lassner noted that the governor has given the university flexibility with implementing the furlough to accommodate its schedule.

However, Fern said UHPA will continue to seek out other options.

“We’re gonna look at all avenues that we potentially have to, you know, attempt to stop this from occurring,” said Fern. “And hopefully the state will come to the table, and we can actually negotiate something rather than having them, you know, unilaterally implement (the furlough).”

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