It’s been six weeks since Hawaii teachers voted to accept the contract offer they’d rejected in January. But the union and state are still no closer to striking a deal.

In fact, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe told teachers last week that the union is exploring legal means to enforce the January contract agreement the state considers off the table, according to internal documents.

Okabe told Civil Beat last week that the union is still “waiting for the governor to respond to our ratified contract.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s spokeswoman, Donalyn Dela Cruz, said the state has informed HSTA that “we want to negotiate the 2013-2015 contract.” There are no negotiation dates set at this time, she added.

Okabe sent the governor a letter July 6 giving the state 14 days to respond to a May 30 memorandum of understanding. He continues to insist that the re-vote in May constituted a ratification of the tentative agreement the union had reached in January.

There were stutter-step negotiations leading up to the re-vote based on HSTA’s Feb. 28 proposal and the state’s March 19 settlement offer. But Abercrombie has said the January contract offer teachers approved no longer has legal standing.

Former HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted suggests not reading too much into the stalemate at this point. Many teachers are on vacation during summer break and union leaders have been at a national convention on the mainland, she said.

“No news is no news. It’s not good. It’s not bad,” Husted said. “When everyone gets back I’m sure it will be topic No. 1.”

Teachers will start the next school year in two weeks, working under the same “last, best, final offer” the governor imposed last July. The contract included wage cuts and higher health care costs.

The HSTA board of directors will meet Aug. 4, Okabe said, and there may be some developments at that time.

Only 6,800 of the union’s 13,000 members participated in the re-vote on the six-year January contract, which includes performance-based pay increases and an evaluation system tied to student growth. Teachers have speculated the reason for the lower turnout was because many people didn’t like either option on the ballot, particularly a “no” vote authorizing the union to call for a strike.

Some 9,000 teachers cast ballots the first time around when they rejected the offer by a two-to-one margin. But in the January vote, a “no” vote only counted as opposition to the contract offer — nothing to do with a strike.

Parents have been worried that school may not start later this month because of a strike, Husted said, but that shouldn’t be a concern.

“Schools are going to open. Teachers will report to work,” she said.

Both sides of the year-old labor dispute are motivated to reach an accord, in part so the state can keep what’s left of the $75 million Race to the Top grant. The state remains at “high-risk” of losing the money, and federal education officials plan to visit Hawaii within a few months to review the state’s progress on its education-reform promises.

A decision in the case before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board is pending. Final reports were filed June 15, but there has been no official notice as to when the quasi-judicial board will make its ruling on whether the state violated the union’s constitutional rights to collective bargaining when it imposed the “last, best, final offer.”

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