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HSTA awaits governor’s response to contract

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The Governor’s Office is preparing a response to a contract proposal submitted by the teachers union Feb. 28, the latest step in a months-long labor dispute.

Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokes­woman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie, said it was not known when the response would be ready. Neither side has disclosed the details of the proposal or whether it includes a plan to tie wage increases to performance.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe stressed that the proposal is based on input from union members statewide, who came out to the HSTA’s "listening sessions" following the teachers’ overwhelming rejection of a proposed contract Jan. 19.

That contract would have moved all teachers to a performance management system, which would be based on new evaluations that take into account student academic growth. Many teachers were concerned about how the new system would work.

Okabe said the contract proposal is "based on what we found."

He added, "We gave the governor the proposal. We’re just waiting."

The labor dispute began July 1 when the state imposed a "last, best and final" contract offer for teachers. The offer included wage reductions and higher health care costs.

The labor dispute contributed to the U.S. Department of Education’s decision in December to put Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant on high-risk status and warn the money could be lost.

Whether the state and union can reach a contract agreement by March 27, when federal reviewers visit to rate Hawaii’s progress on key Race to the Top initiatives, remains up in the air.

Under Race to the Top, the state pledged to make a host of education improvements, including changing to a performance management system for teachers and principals, turning around low-performing schools and boosting student achievement.

Stephen Schatz, head of the DOE’s strategic reform office, told Board of Education members Tuesday that even in the absence of a union agreement, the state will be able to show U.S. DOE reviewers "significant progress" on Race reforms during their visit.

He pointed to a recent union agreement to extend instructional time at 18 schools in Wai­anae and Hawaii County and at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind as a major step forward for the state.

Schatz said amid scrutiny over the state’s Race to the Top progress, it’s important to focus on making sure "we can sustain these reforms," rather than whether the state can "check a box" that they’re done.

"This is about making a difference," he said.

He also said the state’s momentum on Race initiatives has improved. As of Jan. 31 there were about 400 "deliverables" that the state needed to complete. It was able to complete 85 percent of those.

Still, Hawaii’s spending of its Race dollars remains low, one indicator of how projects are moving along. As of March 2 the state had spent about $4.7 million of its $75 million Race grant.

Hawaii was among 10 winners — nine states and the District of Columbia — of competitive Race to the Top grants in August 2010.

BOE Chairman Don Horner said the state’s Race to the Top initiatives are not about a single grant, but about redesigning a system. He said he’s optimistic Hawaii will not lose its Race money, but if it does, "we’re still committed to implementing the plan."

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