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Hawaii Union, District Still at Odds Over Contract

Hawaii teachers have still not come to an agreement with the state over a new contract, in what some commentators think could lead to a strike.

Officials from the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association were in mediation with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that the union reportedly walked away from, saying it was limited to 10 days.

Teachers in the state are working under a "last, best, and final" offer from July 2011 that the state imposed after the union's board rejected an agreement struck by its negotiators and the state. Among other things, teachers took a 5 percent pay reduction. The union filed a complaint with the state's labor-relations board, which hasn't yet issued a ruling.

The two sides took another whack at reaching a contract this January, but the state's teachers didn't ratify the agreement. In May, the union had members revote on this tentative contract, but this time the state said the vote wasn't valid.

(Confused yet? I don't blame you. If you're interested in more details on all this, you can try making your way through a lengthy press release issued by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. A warning, though: It's almost too complicated for rocket scientists.)

The bottom line is that aside from labor strife, the situation has put Hawaii's federal Race to the Top grant in jeopardy, since the contract dispute has prevented the state from securing a new educator-evaluation system.(RTT requires winning districts to revise these systems to include consideration of student achievement, among other things; Hawaii is unique in having just one statewide school district.) The grant is currently on "high risk" status with the U.S. Department of Education. State officials, meanwhile, have outlined progress on a teacher-evaluation pilot program.

Union-watcher Mike Antonucci points out that, just as in Chicago, the situation is pitting a prominent Democrat, Gov. Abercrombie, against labor, and notes that the Hawaii teachers have gone on strike before.

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