Petition, deadlines, add pressure to teacher contract negotiations
"I'm in a very difficult position here, because were in mediation," said Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday.
The governor said state negotiators have met several times with a federal mediator to try and reach a contract agreement with Hawaii teachers.
But he bit his lip over the latest move by the leaders of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
"HSTA is very concerned as are its 13,000 members. We just want to ensure their constitutional rights are upheld," said HSTA President Wil Okabe.
On Friday, the HSTA filed a petition with the Hawaii Supreme Court asking the court to order the Labor Relations Board to make a decision on what's called the state's "Last, Best and Final Offer." That's the contract teachers have been forced to work under for months now, despite members ratifying a different contract in June.
"As for the negotiations to this point, I'm not surprised by anything," said Abercrombie.
Okabe told KITV on Monday that a federal review board plans to revisit the state's "high risk status" in the next month or so, to see if Hawaii will keep or lose $75 million in Race to the Top grant money. Those drawn out contract negotiations is one reason the state was placed in "high risk status."
Okabe said he will be flying to Washington DC on Tuesday to get advise from national educators on how to proceed and how to finally put this issue to bed.
"The teachers have shown a lot of resilience and they’ve done a lot of hard work. Test results have gone up even though it's been a stressful time for teachers. We want nothing more than to get a contract and resolve this situation," he said.
Hawaii Race to the Top administrators say the federal government has not given them a timeline or deadline on when federal mediators will return to review the state's "high-risk status."
As for a decision on the imposed "Last, Best, and Final Offer" contract, Okabe said the Labor Relations Board is required by law to make a decision soon.
On Monday, the board disputed that claim, saying it can take as long as the board feels it needs to take.
Okabe said he's still hopeful the state and the teacher’s union can reach agreement before the end of the year.
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