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Gov. Neil Abercrombie said over the weekend that the state and teachers union have reached an agreement on a new contract at the negotiating level, but the union’s board of directors hasn’t taken it to members for their approval.

But it turns out the governor, who isn’t a member of the current negotiating team, was just referring to the current “last, best, final offer” he imposed in July 2011.

Teachers and others were concerned about Abercrombie’s remarks this week, wondering if their union leaders were botching a potential settlement.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Louise Kim McCoy, released this statement today to clarify:

“Gov. Neil Abercrombie was referring to the current LBFO and it continuing to remain in effect through the end of the contract period since the HSTA has not ratified a contract for the current period,” she said. 

“The Governor, together with Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi and the Board of Education, remains committed to the collective bargaining process in order to achieve a contract with HSTA that teachers will ratify. The superintendent, BOE members and Governor’s representatives continue to participate in negotiations for the next contract period.” 

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said Tuesday that the union is seeing some movement in the latest round of contract talks. In particular, he said the two sides are getting closer to resolving concerns the union has with the proposed teacher evaluation system.

If a new contract agreement can’t be reached with HSTA soon, it looks like teachers can expect to continue working under an imposed contract.

“A statewide contract has not been able to be achieved. We achieved it at the negotiating level, but we have not been able to get the board of the union to get it out to their membership,” Abercrombie said last week at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C. “If push comes to shove, then we’ll have to continue to impose the contract and take it up at that point.”

Abercrombie said the teachers and students have bought into the new policies being implemented throughout the state, including the teacher evaluation system tied to student growth that’s being piloted in dozens of schools. But he said the union leadership has fought everything “tooth and nail.”

Some teachers say they don’t know where the governor is getting his information about the groundswell of support for the new policies and programs.

“I have not heard one person, one teacher, one parent buying into what he’s forcing us to have,” said Justin Hughey, who teaches at an elementary school on Maui.

Teachers also say the governor’s statements last weekend about imposing another contract just make them feel like a strike is unavoidable.

The teachers can’t strike, however, until the Hawaii Labor Relations Board rules on the complaint the union lodged after the governor imposed the current contract. The case wrapped up last summer, but the two board members who presided over it have yet to issue a decision.

A bill moving through the Legislature seeks to impose a limit on how long the labor board can take to rule on a case. The House Finance Committee will hear House Bill 151 Wednesday.

Watch Abercrombie discuss education during the NGA meeting here.

Nathan Eagle