LIHU‘E — Last week, after Gov. David Ige announced his furlough plans which go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, the state Department of Education’s superintendent and Hawai‘i State Teachers Association president released statements in a video addressed to their staff and members, while teachers on Kaua‘i were bothered by the governor’s proposition.
Sharon Saronitman, a third-grade, special-education teacher at Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School, said feelings diverge from the governor’s furlough plans.
“I don’t understand how the governor could even consider doing this to our public-school students, ” Saronitman said. “I don’t think anyone would agree that the students can afford to lose any school days.”
Saronitman emphasized how the governor’s furloughs will affect teachers like her and her colleagues.
“As for the teachers, this is going to affect not just the immediate salaries, but it has long-term effects,” Saronitman said. “Teachers that are near retirement will likely leave, and we will lose teachers that will not be able to afford to stay in this career.
“We were only just beginning to recover from the last furloughs. Morale is at an all-time low, and this does not help attract teachers to an already-underpaid, underfunded career,” Saronitman said.
“It pains me to see our employees whose commitment and dedication remained unwavering throughout the thick of this pandemic impacted in this manner,” said DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto in a video. “I want to emphasize that this situation is not a reflection of all the hard work that you have and continue to deliver on.
“Let us practice kindness, resilience, respect, compassion and courage right now more than ever. The light at the end of this tunnel will be built on these values that we can enact on in this present moment,” Kishimoto added.
The DOE’s furlough plans are exempt for federal or special-funding positions and casual employees. The planned furlough days for the next semester are two days a month.
According to Kishimoto, the dates that the DOE has planned include six days between Jan. 1 and June 30 for 10-month employees and 10 days for 12-month employees.
“Our planned furlough days (are) taken into account we lost nine instructional days at the beginning of the school year,” Kishimoto said. “We wanted to minimize any further loss of instructional days for students. I know together we will remember our mission — to prioritize our students and ensure they are provided with the highest-quality education possible so that they can strive.”
Meanwhile, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee spoke to his members in a video right after Ige’s announcement.
“Neither the governor nor the Department of Education has disclosed how our members and our students will be affected by these furloughs,” Rosenlee said. “HSTA opposes this unilateral action, and we are willing to take the governor to court to keep it from happening, by inserting and protecting our collective-bargaining rights.”
Rosenlee said the furloughs will create devastating, long-term consequences for the public schools and their students. He argued how the drastic cuts will cripple the already-struggling communities in Hawai‘i and how it will push the economy even further away from recovery.
The pay cuts, according to Rosenlee, will not just impact teachers, but will also impact educational assistants, custodians, security guards and many other government employees.
“We understand the economic situation that our state is in, but have we not learned our lesson from just a decade ago?” Rosenlee asked. “’Furlough Fridays’ reduced school days and cut teachers’ pay. Many teachers have still not recovered from these pay cuts, and this directly led to the teacher-shortage crisis.”
Rosenlee expressed frustration that he and his colleagues feel during this national crisis.
“As educators, we are already stressed by the difficult environment of teaching during this pandemic,” Rosenlee said. “And potentially-crippling budget cuts for public education which could result in the loss of 1,000 positions.”
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.