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Union Vote to Approve New Hawaii Teachers' Contract in Vain?

Members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association have voted to approve a new contract with the state, the union's president, Wil Okabe, told the Associated Press May 24. But the problem is that the governor says that contract offer is no longer on the table.

The conflict continues to have big implications for the state's Race to the Top grant status. As my colleague Alyson Klein reported on May 4, the U.S. Department of Education decided not to withdraw the state's $75 million grant, but to keep it on "high-alert" status, after department officials visited the state earlier this year to check in on progress.

The state school system has progressed in some areas in meeting its Race to the Top requirements, but work between the state and the teachers' union on a evaluation system has stalled. The main sticking point is exactly how the new evaluations, based in part on student achievement, will impact personnel decisions. That aspect still needs to be collectively bargained with HSTA as part of the new contract. The state board of education voted to adopt regulations for the new evaluations recently, but that doesn't solve the central problem.

Now, the state did offer a version of a new contract to the HSTA, but the association rejected the proposed deal back in January. This time, Okabe told the AP that 66 percent of teachers chose to ratify the contract.

But as I reported on May 15, and as the AP story notes, the state (and Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, in particular) has said the January contract HSTA rejected is no longer on the table. A spokeswoman for Abercrombie, Donalyn Dela Cruz, told me in a May 8 email that, "The parties will need to follow the normal procedures of collective bargaining."

Okabe said after the HSTA vote approving the contract that he hopes the governor changes his mind. The chairwoman of the state Senate's education committee, Jill Tokuda, also sounded a happy note: "I think it's a very good sign to see that teachers are willing to consider performance management systems tied to student growth."

But in a May 23 statement after the HSTA vote, Abercrombie didn't appear willing to change his mind. "Now is a good time for HSTA to submit a new proposal for discussion. When HSTA decides to return to collective bargaining, the vote results will be seriously considered. Our team remains prepared to negotiate," he said in the press release.

Apparently, per Dela Cruz, Abercombie still doesn't consider it "normal" to vote to approve a contract that (in the state's view) no longer exists.

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