Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 |
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Today is the first full day on the job for the newly constituted state Board of Education. And what a big job it is.
The labor union for the people teaching in grades kindergarten through 12 – the Hawai’i State Teachers Association – has reached an impasse with state negotiators in contract talks.
Depending on how long the stalemate continues, it’s possible that the union members could eventually go on strike. The public posturing and pronouncements by the two sides are part of a process that might just as easily lead to a settlement with no work stoppages. That would be preferrable to the worst-case scenario of a strike, which would create even more dissension than already exists between educators and officials who hold the state’s pursestrings.
Also simmering is labor strife in the University of Hawai’i system. Its 3,000-member faculty union is upset that the state initially claimed there was no money for pay raises, then came off its empty-pockets position and proposed a four-year contract with no wage increases the first two years and a combined 9.2 percent boost over the second two years. Here again, contract negotiations are at an impasse, and a strike could occur if enough disgruntled union members agree to walk out.
Giving teachers the salaries they deserve and the state’s taxpayers can afford is a tightrope act. The Board of Education must somehow provide leadership in these ticklish labor issues without leaning too heavily one way or the other, and without forgetting that it is the interests of students – the innocent bystanders in the middle of the contract disputes – that must ultimately be represented first and foremost.
Sherwood Hara, the newly elected Kaua’i District representative who was among nine board members inducted yesterday in Honolulu, said last week that the board “won’t be able to get anything accomplished unless we all work together.” Indeed, the 13-member board doesn’t need to agree 100 percent of the time, but it does need to put the goal of providing the best education possible ahead of all other business facing Hawaii’s public school system.
There are some board members who have a reputation as being single-issue-oriented. If the labels turn out to be true, that won’t wash. Every board member should have a multi-issue agenda that includes driving down the students-to-teachers ratio, upholding in-school protection of students from harassment, preserving safe and nurturing environments for pupils and educators alike, and putting students in the hands of adequately trained instructors.
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