A New Attitude On Furlough Fridays

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - November 18, 2009
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I wrote a column a few weeks ago saying that while it was too bad teachers and the state had to come to agreement on a flawed contract, both sides had been forced into it by our state’s dire economic woes. I thought at the time that there was no choice. And I said it is now time for parents to step up and help teachers do their jobs by providing more resources.

I’ve changed my mind. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had my head up the proverbial donkey’s arse when I wrote that column. How else could I have been so blinded at the significance of fewer school days in a state known to have the fewest in the nation? I guess the reality of those 17 disappearing days hadn’t sunk in. Well, now it has.

Oh, I still believe we’re in a fiscal crisis, and I still think we, the citizens of Hawaii, have to step up and help our schools in a more active way. My views on that haven’t changed a bit.

What’s changed is that it appears there may have been choices out there after all. It has come to light that there may be more money, untapped, that could have made such a devil’s pact unnecessary.


So I am now angry.

Yes, I’m mad. But not as mad as my friend (I’ll call her Janet) who has three kids in public schools. She’s downright PO’d. Those are her words, not mine.

Now Janet doesn’t follow politics at all, and to her credit she thinks that may be why we’re all in this mess. She thinks if she had paid more attention to what was happening in the past, her kids wouldn’t be shortchanged today. She’s sure paying attention now. And one conclusion she’s come to is this: “I’m really disappointed in this governor.”

She is, of course, talking about Linda Lingle, who may go down in history as the governor who oversaw the ruination of public education in Hawaii.

Before someone throws a shoe at me or something, let me say this: I am not blaming Lingle alone for the disaster. It’s my friend, working mom of three kids, who is pointing her finger straight at the governor. And I do not believe my friend is alone. In the general public, people are looking for someone to take some responsibility. Janet happens to be looking at the governor.

But there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on in all different directions. Those digits are directed at the teachers’ union, at the Department of Education, at the teachers who ratified the contract, at the state negotiators and at law-makers. And, yes, at the governor. After all, the buck stops at her desk, doesn’t it?

Lingle has said she regrets signing the agreement. She sort of pointed her own finger at the union and her state negotiators.

She said she believed them when they told her there were no other options. Well, hooey. Ms. Lingle, you’re the boss, the big cheese - the head principal, so to speak. You could have sent all these arguing kids back into the classroom to do more research. Get their homework done. Revise their study plan. Instead you took them at their word and signed off, sort of like a teacher who accepts a forged note from a tardy student. And now you’re sorry.

Or maybe you just don’t like being held up on a national level as the governor of a state that failed its kids. That’s not me talking, it’s The New York Times: “The economic crisis has forced every state to scramble to get its budget in balance. This has meant torturous efforts to preserve essential services and minimize the pain and damage from slashed spending and lost jobs. Every state has sacrificed. But Hawaii has sacrificed its own schoolchildren.”

And federal education secretary Arne Duncan, according to the Times, “wondered why the state hadn’t used its federal stimulus money to save classroom days. (The state instead used the $105 million to cut its own contribution to education, which was legal but hardly admirable.)”

I don’t think it’s solely the governor’s fault. But what I see is a complete lack of leadership on her part. Instead of bringing parties together for the good of all, instead of giving them a directive to come up with a plan that didn’t hurt kids, instead of searching high and low for money that could be used to avert an educational disaster, the perception is she stepped back and allowed the worst to happen. My friend insists the governor isn’t even in the game. How uncool is that, especially at a time when our kids are already struggling to catch up to their Mainland peers?

My friend doesn’t care about politics all that much. She’s just mad that her kids are getting the shaft. She read that New York Times editorial because someone e-mailed it to her. She talks to other parents. And those parents are, like her, really PO’d, and not just at the governor. They think teachers, who overwhelmingly ratified the contract, failed them as well. The teachers could have said no. They didn’t. Is that fair? It really doesn’t matter. What happens from this point on does.

So what’s the answer - the lawsuits, the federal stimulus money, higher taxes, teacher pay cut, the hurricane fund, a special session, a combination of solutions or all of the above?

And while we’re at it, let’s point the finger at onemore party. As Janet said, we allowed this to happen by ignoring what was going on.

What is really clear is that people do care now. It took a while, but they’re mad. And some are willing to get very loud about it. That’s good. It may take a little, or a lot, of screaming to get the problem fixed.

It is not too late. This is an excellent time to get loud.

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