Tuesday, December 27, 2011


THE SUBJECT SURE WASN'T ROSES: You won't find a "label" saying "education" at the bottom of any of our columns. As a matter of fact we can't remember it ever being a subject of discussion.

And that's no accident.

We've usually got something to say about everything- learned or devoid of prior inquiry, solicited or unwelcome. But even though we've watched two generations of our own progeny wend their way through the Hawai`i Public School system our opinion regarding how to improve it has been limited to three words... "triple teachers' salaries."

What can you say after that? Assuming that all that;s said about a better educated citizenry and the correlation with productivity, it stands to reason it should easily pay for itself... and more

Not that the ridiculously low wages we pay teachers now is a total deterrent to many who are talented enough to make that treble sum elsewhere. There are an unexplainable slew that are nonetheless dedicated to the thankless, "hardest job you'll ever love" because, well, it's the job they love. But let's not forget that the same low wage has got to be an encouragement to at least a small few who somehow got through college yet would be lucky get a new paper hat each year with their W2.

There ones we're aiming at are those who would become teachers if only they got paid commensurate with their talents. The trick is to properly dispatch the "do you want fries with that" crowd and replace them with professionals by paying teachers like doctors and lawyers, not burger-flippers

Anyway, as usual we digress before we begin.

What caught our attention and convinced us to break our unwritten "don't talk about education" rule is not even just the recent news that the state of Hawai`i has somehow potentially blown the previously promised $75 million through the federal "Race to the Top" program- the only state so designated for reversal. It's that yesterday an article (paywall protected) by Honolulu Star-Advertiser education writer Mary Vorsino zeroed in on why we stand to blow the grant.

After the usual mealy-mouthed mish-mosh of unconvincing reasons why "tings wen' huli" since last year's acceptance into the program, Vorsino "revealed" what anyone who has followed the politics of state education for the last year sensed the day the feds said "not so fast there, Neil."

(I)t's not yet clear whether the state will be able to show movement in one of the biggest areas of concern for federal officials: a continuing labor dispute with the teachers union that has stalled several major projects, including efforts to reach a collective bargaining agreement on improved teacher evaluations...

The U.S. Department of Education review, set for late next month, could make or break Hawaii's grant, whose "high-risk" status reflects federal worries about whether the state is capable of meeting its ambitious Race to the Top promises.

For those who have been in a cave since last summer, the teachers' union- along with most of the other state employee groups- were negotiating for new contracts as they had always done- in fits and stops and threats and other bizarre posturing on both their part and the part of the governor... in this case the newly-elected former educator and liberal lion, former Congressman Neil Abercrombie.

But rather than dicker around as even ultra-conservative Republican Governor Linda Lingle and her predecessors had done, Abercrombie gave the teachers the finger and unilaterally imposed salary and benefit cuts calling it his "best and final offer," telling the teachers to strike if they didn't like it.

The screwiest part was that, within a few cents either way, it was probably what the teachers would have settled for anyway, especially if and when other state workers had accepted the 5% pay cut with a slight raise of the employee contribution to their health care coverage- exactly what Abercrombie had been pushing since the legislative session ended and had already gotten out of the UH teachers and would soon get from the Hawai`i Government Employees Association (HGEA).

Of course the second screwiest was the fact that the $75 million the state stands to lose if the "Race to the Top" money goes south is that, within a few bucks, it's the same amount that the state stands to save on that "best and final offer" to the teachers.

And, if he had settled it rather than impose it, the whole debacle would be over now, not stalled before the labor board where it is being dragged out, ad infinitum, costing a big pile o' cash for lawyers and other legal logistics on both sides.

What the heck Abercrombie was thinking is anyone's guess. It's not the first, nor will it be the last, in a string of seemingly-endless, insanely-tone-deaf decisions he's made since taking office. Apparently he's unable to understand that he can't get away with the same "because I said so" nonsense that just went unnoticed in congress where, as 1 of 435, he didn't have the sole power to enforce his words. Now that he does, as 1 of 1, he stands to be responsible for what he says and does and is uncomfortable with all that power.

And he'd better learn that lesson fast. He's starting to make Lingle look sane.

No comments: