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Hawaii teachers union wants to meet with feds

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 5:31 a.m. HST, Mar 16, 2012

Hawaii's teachers union wants to meet with federal education officials who will visit in about two weeks to monitor the state's progress on Race to the Top reforms.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association plans to ask Hawaii's congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., for help getting face time with the federal Race to the Top team, which is expected to visit the week of March 26, said Wil Okabe, union president.

"We want time with the federal government to see what areas they have concerns about," Okabe said.

In December, the U.S. Department of Education admonished Hawaii for its "unsatisfactory" performance under the $75 million grant the state won last year in a high profile competition, saying it was placing the state under "high risk" status. State education officials have acknowledged struggling with timelines and the challenges of moving forward without a formalized union agreement.

The two sides had reached a conceptual agreement before Hawaii was announced as a winner to tie half of a teacher's evaluation to education gains made by students. But the union currently is embroiled in a prohibited practice complaint it lodged with the state labor relations board against the state. The union claims the state violated members' rights by implementing its "last, best and final" contract offer over the summer.

Union members in January rejected a proposal that would have paved the way for making progress on promised reforms but would have included an evaluation system teachers weren't comfortable with. Since then, the union has been gathering feedback from teachers about another proposal.

The union submitted a new proposal on Feb. 28, Okabe said, but is still waiting for a response from the governor. Okabe said the lack of a response is frustrating given Gov. Neil Abercrombie's urgency for a proposed contract after the previous proposal was shot down.

Okabe declined to detail the latest proposal.

"We have received their proposal, are in the process of reviewing it and will respond shortly," Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said Thursday. "We want to make sure we give it a thorough review." She could not say when the governor would have a response ready.

In preparation for the visit, a request has been made for a meeting that will include the state and the union, Dela Cruz said.

"It would be a great opportunity to have such a meeting as we work towards our Race to the Top goals," she said. "However, we do understand that this will have to be worked around the U.S. DOE representative's schedule."

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