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John Nippolt
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Hawaii’s Department of Education is having a pretty tough time of it these days, trying to weather a storm of drastic budget cuts. Measures taken to relieve an incredible state budget deficit included implementing a teacher’s contract with the State, mandating salary cuts for all teachers. Teachers, administrators, and classified staff, all suffered pay cuts, which eventually forced Hawaii public schools to be closed for at least two Fridays (enter furlough Fridays) every month (sometimes three) during the school years 2010 through 2011. Although the Hawaii State Teachers Association had to vote for their own 8.7% salary cuts, it was thought to be the best path to follow, hopefully to diminish the threat of more
teachers losing their jobs.
      Can you imagine hiring a lawyer who wouldn’t prepare ahead of time to represent you in court? Would you choose a doctor who wouldn’t take the time to check out your medical history or evaluate your current health problems before operating on you? Would you allow your children to go to a school where the teachers had no time to prepare for classroom management, curriculum delivery, and assignments?
      Furlough Fridays have been the cause of an extraordinary amount of negative press directed at teachers in the local newspapers, the source from where I usually read about decisions made on my behalf as a teacher. Claims have been published that put the teachers at fault for this mess. Doesn’t anyone know teachers are usually the last ones to find out any information regarding their jobs?
      I knew from the start that ratifying the new teacher contract would mean trouble. It was clear to me that these cuts would initiate unforeseen problems and my gut feeling was that the whole arrangement was another ill-thought out proposal containing unreasonable demands on teachers. Although I knew the teachers would accept the pay cuts, I voted ‘no’ to ratify the new teacher contract.
      I felt the majority of teachers believed they were avoiding mass lay-offs and future job loss in the work force by agreeing to pay cuts. No one (except maybe, the few who voted not to ratify the new contract) saw school closures coming. When this happened the media pounced on the teachers blaming them for not caring about the students.
     Public outrage over Furlough Fridays continues; the days, weeks and months roll by and nothing has been done to resolve the problem. Suggestions were made to raid the State’s rainy day contingency funds, in order to pay teachers to get back into the classrooms, the governor rejected such ideas. Eventually, bending to a growing public distaste for the alarming mess, a new worse plan was hatched. The governor agreed to take some money from the rainy day funds to eliminate some Furlough Fridays. This new arrangement included demands that teachers give up their remaining planning days by turning them into student instructional days for the remainder of the 2010-2011 school year. Once again, the gallery of teacher critics jumped on the bandwagon. “Teachers don’t need time to prepare... they’re supposed to be professionals aren’t they?” Moments of clarity fade quickly, so I have to say this while it is still fresh in my mind. Professional practice ratios for teachers demand three hours planning for one hour instruction, period.
     Do you really think teachers can teach by foregoing days to plan?
     I, for one, am tired of jumping out of the pan and into the fire. Hear me now, understand me yesterday... I will vote against any such draconian measures. I mean, get real. No planning days? Think about that one. Then, the band shouldn’t practice and neither should the athletes. I dare anybody to teach just one of my classes without having done any preparation. You won’t make it through the door, trust me.
     So, I get to work just before six-thirty every day and since the school year started, I’ve noticed a van that pulls in about the same time I do. The man parks in a nearby stall and unloads his son who is a student at my school. Normally, the man sits and waits, watching his son disappear safely onto the campus, and then he will drive off.
     Yesterday, after his son departed, I walked over to the van and introduced myself to the driver, informing him that I was a teacher at the school. I wanted to get his opinion about the governor’s demand for teachers to give up their planning days and get back into the classroom full time. He was a local Japanese man, so I mentioned that because I understood how important education is to the Asian community, I wanted an honest reply.
I asked him, “Do you think teachers should give up their planning days to get rid of the Furlough Friday debacle?”
     He looked out through his front windshield for a moment and waited before he turned back to face me. He replied, “I don’t think the teachers should give up anything.” I can live with that.