The union that represents more than 13,000 public school teachers endorsed Neil Abercrombie for governor yesterday, saying the former congressman knows what needs to be done to improve Hawaii’s schools.
"He will work with the Legislature to make sure that education is a priority in this state," said Wil Okabe, Hawaii State Teachers Association president. "We believe Neil Abercrombie is the best candidate for governor in this year’s election."
The endorsement comes as Hawaii’s education system embarks on a host of reforms aimed at turning around low-performing schools and tries to repair its image in the wake of teacher furloughs.
Hawaii students lost 17 days to furloughs in the past school year — and had the shortest instructional calendar in the nation — under a deal agreed to by the DOE, HSTA and Gov. Linda Lingle.
When asked yesterday whether he would consider teacher furloughs to address budget shortfalls, Abercrombie gave a one-word answer: "No."
Abercrombie, speaking at a news conference at HSTA headquarters, also said he is in favor of switching from an elected to an appointed school board — an issue voters will take up this November.
Okabe said the union is urging parents and about 25,000 retired teachers to support Abercrombie, in addition to active members.
Abercrombie said he was honored by the endorsement and pledged to make education a top priority if elected.
"This endorsement … is not about me. This is about the child," he said. "It’s a recommitment to our core goal of seeing to it that education is the center of progress here in Hawaii."
Democratic opponent Mufi Hannemann responded to HSTA’s endorsement yesterday by saying that if elected, he looks forward "to working with teachers, parents and administrators."
He added, in a statement, "As I have said before, I have the utmost respect for teachers and for the union that represents them."
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, Republican gubernatorial contender, was not available for comment yesterday.