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State, teachers reach tentative agreement on new contract

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 10:20 p.m. HST, Jan 6, 2012

The state and teachers union have reached an "agreement in principle" on a new labor contract aimed at ending a months-long dispute that has put Hawaii's $75 million Race to the Top grant at risk.

The tentative agreement will be sent to teachers for a vote shortly.

"We've reached an agreement in principle," said Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman to Gov. Neil Abercrombie. "Once it becomes an official agreement, we're looking forward to ratification."

She added, "Everyone sees the need to move this forward, and people are in agreement that the obligation is to the children."

Details on the agreement were not immediately available.

The dispute stems from the state's decision to unilaterally implement a "last, best and final" contract offer for teachers July 1, after declaring an impasse in negotiations.

The "last, best" offer included furloughs, wage reductions and higher health care premiums.

HSTA said the union violated members' rights, and sought relief at the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

The state, meanwhile, has argued the action was needed to preserve jobs.

The labor dispute has been blamed in part, for the U.S. Department of Education's decision last month to place Hawaii's Race to the Top grant on "high-risk" status.

 In announcing the reprimand, the U.S. DOE told Hawaii that if progress wasn't made, the state's $75 million Race grant could be lost.

Hawaii is the only Race winner in such jeopardy.

Officials said a key point of concern for the Obama administration revolves around Hawaii's dispute with teachers, which has stalled progress on a number of key initiatives, including reaching an agreement on revamped teacher evaluations.

U.S. DOE reviewers are tentatively scheduled to visit the islands the week of Jan. 23, during which they'll look for "clear and compelling evidence that demonstrates that it (the state) has made substantial progress across its Race to the Top plan," according to a letter to the governor from the department.

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