If you thought the dispute between Hawaii’s teachers union and the state would be wrapped up by Christmas, it’s definitely time to think again.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is examining its witnesses at a rate of one per month — primarily because the attorneys say their schedule only allows for about three hearing dates per month. The next hearing is set for Dec. 14.

One witness a month doesn’t sound so bad until you consider that there are more than 60 witnesses on the union’s list. And the union hasn’t even begun putting its own witnesses on the stand. In a departure from standard courtroom/boardroom behavior, HSTA attorney Herb Takahashi started off with key state officials — most of them named opponents in the labor complaint against the state.

At this rate, the union could be tied up in a legal battle with the state until 2017.

If the goal is swift justice for 12,500 teachers who sustained a 5 percent pay cut and (in some cases) a 100 percent increase in health care costs this year as a result of the contract imposed on them, this may not be the ideal way to go about it.

As former HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted observed, “The legal battle will drag on for months or perhaps years of appeals, unless the parties wake up one day and decide that for the sake of the students, teachers and collective bargaining, they need to get back to the table and resolve both the contractual issues and the legal issues.”

But if the goal is to placate teachers by doing something until the next round of contract negotiations begins in 2012, HSTA’s decision-makers may be right on the money.

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