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Hawaii teachers union raises new concerns about bill requiring teacher performance evaluations

April 10, 2012

Hawaii teachers union raises new concerns about bill requiring teacher performance evaluations

Interesting reading, it seems that Hawaii’s Board of Education is going for an “end-around” with regard to the teachers’ union in that state.  Once again we see the squid-like tentacles of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top bribery program at work here.  You see, in order to get the money, you have some hoops to jump through, one of the hoops is creating new evaluations which tie teacher performance to student test scores.

Full disclosure: I lived on Maui for a year when I was 27, it was a wonderful experience…I lived in Kihei, and was a regular visitor to this particular beach (below).  My life consisted of the beach during the day and some classes during the late afternoon, and then drinks after that, what a life that was…I lived off of my savings and had a great time…

Kamaole II beach

The union representing Hawaii’s public school teachers is taking issue with a new version of a bill that would require performance evaluations of educators.

The latest version would “supersede collective bargaining rights” by giving the Board of Education authority to establish the evaluation program, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said Friday. Evaluations are part of promised reforms in a $75 million Race to the Top grant that the U.S. Education Department has warned could be lost if progress on the reforms isn’t made.

“The teachers want an opportunity to be involved in the process,” Okabe said. “The latest version takes that away. Legislation will not make teachers feel respected.”

Why worry about teachers feeling respected…they are only educating the youth, not a very important job.

It’s reminiscent of Wisconsin’s contentious law curbing collective bargaining rights, he said.

Lawmakers and the state Department of Education told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the measure doesn’t take away any rights and ensures teachers will be evaluated fairly and entitled to due process.

Keaau High School teacher Russell Cummins told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald he opposes the bill.

“The Hawaii State Teachers Association has worked very hard to bargain for the rights of teachers in good faith through the collective bargaining process and under the State of Hawaii Constitution,” he wrote in testimony he plans to submit. “I do not want to lose this right through legislative mandates.”

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe says the latest version of the bill would strip teachers of collective bargaining rights.

The union told members that amendments were made to the bill Wednesday, the day before a negotiating team returned to the bargaining table with the state.

State education officials have said some Race to the Top reforms have been slowed by a labor dispute with the teachers union. The union is embroiled in a prohibited practice complaint it lodged with the state labor relations board, claiming the state violated members’ rights by implementing its “last, best and final” contract offer over the summer.

The union submitted its latest contract proposal to the administration Feb. 28, after members rejected a contract in January that would have paved the way for promised education reforms but included an evaluation system that teachers weren’t comfortable with. Gov. Neil Abercrombie sharply criticized the union’s effort, saying the proposal was “fiscally irresponsible and devoid of reasonable policy regarding standards and performance.”

Okabe said Thursday’s negotiations were mostly perfunctory, which included establishing dates for future meetings. “We’re going to start the formal part in a couple of weeks,” he said.

The negotiation process and the uncertainty of the state’s $75 million grant prompted Okabe to write a letter this week to President Barack Obama.

“What else can I do?” he said of the letter dated Tuesday. “I need to do everything to have everyone understand that HSTA is not the block in this situation.”

He said it felt somewhat desperate to resort to writing to the president, but he did so with the hopes that Obama, who was born in Hawaii, could appeal to Abercrombie. “This is his home state. It sends a very clear message across the country about Race to the Top,” Okabe said.

In the letter, Okabe complains that negotiations with Abercrombie “have been difficult.” Abercrombie’s office did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the letter Friday.

“There are times when the governor says publicly that the remaining issues should be resolved at the collective bargaining table,” the letter said. “At other times, he states that he will mandate a settlement and legislate outstanding issues.”

There are many forces in this country right now trying to break the backs of unions and do away with collective bargaining rights.  Teachers, cops, firefighters, city workers, and the rest of the public employee unions are a big roadblock to these breakup plans.  We need to support everyone’s right to collectively bargain.

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