They say hindsight is 20/20. So now that the keiki have hit the beaches for the summer and the dust from the Furlough Fridays scuffle has begun settling, Civil Beat is trying to make sense of it all. (Click here to read our backgrounder on the infamous Furlough Fridays.)

One way we’re trying to learn from the past is by taking a look at the private letters Hawaii State Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi and Gov. Linda Lingle wrote each other while they tried in their own ways to end school furloughs.

A few surprises:

  • The teachers’ union initially opposed relinquishing any teacher planning days, but ended up sacrificing them for the 2010-11 school year. That was what Lingle asked for in the beginning, for both 2009 and 2010. So the teachers “saved” one year of planning days, but lost 17 instructional days, and the pay that would have come with them.

  • Toward the end of the long-drawn stalemate, Toguchi recommended Lingle use $35 million in federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds — the same $35 million the board initially asked for in November to reduce furloughs — for things other than education. He made the suggestion to ease the governor’s concerns about how the state would pay for other government services if she tapped the Hurricane Relief Fund to end school furloughs.

  • Lingle’s negotiating team said publicly all along that the governor’s primary concern was getting the students back in school. She was saying the same thing in private.

  • After rejecting the education board’s initial May 2009 proposal to avoid furloughs by tapping the Hurricane Relief Fund, Lingle was the first to submit a plan that would end furlough days for both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Toguchi wrote about reducing them. Because of this, in the early negotiations, she offered more money than the board requested.

Civil Beat obtained the correspondence between Toguchi and Lingle using a freedom of information request to the board of education. Toguch wrote four letters starting in November 2009 before Lingle responded in April of this year. 

Marie Laderta, of the Hawaii Office of Collective Bargaining, told Civil Beat in May that the governor repeatedly told board and union representatives that she didn’t want them to touch students’ instructional time.

“I can personally testify that she always said furloughs should not be taking away from classroom time. She said it many, many, many times,” Laderta said.

The letters, which we will share here, support Laderta’s statement.

Perhaps more interesting, the main cause of tension in the early public exchanges over furloughs seems to have centered on teacher planning days. Because of differences in opinion over how much those planning days mattered, education and political leaders resorted to mudslinging.

Lingle asked teachers to give up their planning days so the board could restore as many instructional days as possible, but the union resisted because it maintained that planning days were essential to making the most of what instructional time remained. Eventually the union drew up its own plan that included relinquishing them, but by then the negotiating parties had become so entrenched that the concession didn’t lead to an immediate resolution.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the exchanges between Lingle and Toguchi.

Nov. 9
Letter from Toguchi to Lingle

Encourages allocation of $35 million in federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds to reduce furloughs and to position the state for federal grants

“I believe there is no better way to invest in education than by ensuring Hawaii’s students spend as much time as possible in the classroom with their teachers,” Toguchi writes.

Chair to Governor, Nov. 9, 2009

Nov. 10
Honolulu Advertiser report says Lingle refused the board’s plan, saying that the stimulus money was set aside for improvements to education.

Nov. 18
Advertiser report shows Lingle proposed teachers convert their non-instructional days and the state use $50 million from the rainy day fund to end furloughs.

Dec. 10
Advertiser report says that the Hawaii State Teachers Association didn’t want to lose planning days.

Dec. 16
The governor’s policy adviser says HSTA is adamant about keeping planning days. Unable to reach agreement, the board and union go off and work out their own deal, reducing remaining 10 furlough days by 7. But they still need the governor’s signature to use the $35 million in stimulus funds.

Jan. 7
Governor’s team says it will revamp the deal between the board/union, Advertiser says.

Jan. 22
Letter from Toguchi to Lingle

Thanks her for attending Jan. 19 board meeting. Asks if she is open to a plan “that reduces, but does not eliminate, furlough fridays.”

Asks if she’s willing to consider other special funds sources. “The Board remains committed to reducing the number of school furloughs,” he writes.

January 22, 2010

Jan. 24
Advertiser report: Union insists on $35 million deal to end furloughs for 2009-2010 school year. Lingle still offering $50 million to end them for both school years, at price of planning time.

Feb. 2
Letter from Toguchi to Lingle containing an invitation to have her meet with the board on Feb. 4.

Chairman to Governor February 2, 2010

Feb. 19
Letter from Toguchi to Lingle

Toguchi says the board presented Lingle’s plan to the teachers union, but the response Toguchi relays has been redacted. But the chairman says the board and union remain committed to working out a supplemental agreement to reduce the number of public school furloughs.

Chairman to Governor February 19, 2010

Feb. 24
Advertiser report: HSTA files prohibited practice complaint against Lingle with the state Labor Department.

Lingle says union leaders care more about money than education.

March 30
Advertiser report: Board and union release plan to end Furlough Fridays: $92 million to eliminate the four remaining furlough days for 2009-10 and all 17 for 2010-11.

Advertiser report: Lingle announces her plan the same day: $62 million from Hawaii’s Rainy Day Fund while keeping “non-essential” department staff on furlough. Lingle’s plan is also contingent on the Hawaii State Legislature passing a constitutional amendment for voters to decide whether the governor should appoint the superintendent.

April 9
Parents and students stage a weeklong sit-in at the governor’s office to protest school furloughs. Several are arrested on trespassing charges.

April 19
Letter from Lingle to Toguchi

She tells the board chairman that even if the Legislature appropriates funding to end furloughs, “the union may not agree to terms I can support,” since the board/union plan released in March “doesn’t meet the fiscal limitations of the state.”

She tells Toguchi that since no resolution has been reached, they all must face the prospect that furloughs may continue for the coming school year. With that in mind, she calls on board to develop a 2010-11 furlough plan that would minimize disruptions to the school calendar.

“Indicating there is nothing more that can be done is not accurate and leaves the public with a sense there is no hope,” she writes.

April 19, 2010 Governor to Chairman

April 21
Letter from Toguchi to Lingle

He tells her the board is sticking to its agreement with HSTA, and goes into greater detail about its components.

  • For 2009-10, $24.5 million and one teacher planning day to restore four instructional days
  • For 2010-11, teachers have agreed to exchange six planning days for instruction days, and the board requests $67.5 million to be appropriated for that school year to restore the remaining 11 instructional days.

He adds that the board/union plan is endorsed by teachers, parents, etc. and meets the key concerns from administration: converts six planning days for instruction and eliminates all furlough days in both years.

Toguchi also tells the governor that tapping the Hurricane Relief Fund would not diminish the state’s ability to recover from a hurricane because the fund isn’t needed to back the insurance market anymore or repair buildings and homes. Even if a disaster warranted the use of the money, the board/union supplemental agreement would leave the fund with a $90 million balance, he writes.

He suggests that this remaining balance and the $35 million the state would still have in stimulus funds, would not inhibit the state’s ability to support social programs.

In the event furloughs aren’t ended for 2010-11, Toguchi writes that grouping furlough days together could cost up to $30 million in unemployment insurance (because hourly education department employees are able to collect unemployment insurance on days not worked, if they are working fewer hours and earning less on a weekly basis than usual). He tells Lingle her administration would have to commit to cover that.

Chairman to Governor April 21, 2010

April 26
Governor’s office press release: Lingle asks teachers to return to work for free on the three remaining furlough days.

May 3
Letter from Toguchi to Lingle

Toguchi asks Lingle to sign a legislative bill releasing $67 million from the Hurricane Relief Fund.

Chairman to Governor May 3, 2010

Letter from Lingle to Toguchi

Lingle writes that she is concerned that Toguchi has suggested she use the stimulus funds for things other than improving education. She implies he is irresponsible for recommending a reduction in education funding.

She tells him all negotiating parties would have to reach an agreement before the funds are released; in particular, the board, union and administration would have to agree on how many and which days would be restored with the money.

She insists that the $67 million appropriated in Senate Bill 2124 is enough to eliminate all furlough days for the 2010-11 school year.

“Anything less will demonstrate that you are not placing the interests of the children first and foremost,” she writes.

In case no resolution is reached, she says she is disappointed that the board doesn’t seem interested in rearranging furlough days in 2010-11 to minimize disruption to the school calendar and that she isn’t convinced it would cost $30 million in unemployment claims.

Governor to Chairman May 3, 2010

May 14
The last Furlough Friday of 2009-10 school year.

May 25
Lingle announces a four-part plan to end furloughs, which she says the board and union have agreed to:

  • Lingle will release $57.2 million from the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund, as she stated in April. This money will be dedicated to restoring instruction on 11 of the 17 scheduled furlough days for next year.
  • She will use $2.2 million from what remains of $35 million the state received in federal recovery funds to restore instruction in charter schools.
  • Teachers are going to give up planning time in order to restore instructional time on the remaining six scheduled furlough days for the 2010-11 school year.
  • A group of major Hawaii banks, including First Hawaiian Bank, have agreed to open a $10 million line of interest-free credit for the state, to be used for schools when necessary for maintaining a full school year.

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