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Teachers and Retirees upset with Abercrombie

July 31, 2011

Contract has isle teachers angered as year begins

By COLIN M. STEWART    (the following story appears in today’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

Some Big Island educators say they feel like they’ve been slapped in the face after Gov. Neil Abercrombie called off contract negotiations with the state teachers’ union. And with classes beginning Monday, they say they hope he will do the right thing and pick up where negotiations left off.

“Shame on you Governor Abercrombie,” wrote Pahoa resident Judy Courtot in a letter to the Tribune-Herald. “… The first day of school is Monday, I am sad, I am scared and I am unprepared.

“But I and my fellow teachers will continue to do the best we can. We will not let the keiki down; unlike the governor, who has let the teachers down.”

Retired Hilo teacher Betty Ann Yoshimura, 72, said she, too, strongly opposes Abercrombie’s actions.

In a phone interview Friday, she said she felt “really disappointed about the route the governor is going.”

“I know he’s got a tough job trying to balance the budget,” she said. “But now we’re being told he’s planning to take more cuts from our retirement allowance and to keep Medicare Plan B reimbursements. …

“My retirement allotment is not very big, so every little thing they take out makes an impact, and I’m sure there are a lot of teachers in that same situation.”

Yoshimura said she also took exception to the way in which the governor broke off the negotiations.

“I felt offended about his comments about ‘This is the last offer, take it or leave it.’ It was a slap to the teachers. It showed disrespect,” she said. “Most of us have given our lives and careers and dedicated it to the children. I just felt kind of slighted when he put it like that.”

On Thursday and Friday, teachers were told they shouldn’t come in to school to prepare their classrooms for the new week, a condition of the July 1 contract that went into effect once negotiations broke down.

“This year, you have locked me out of my classroom on two of the most important days of the year. Sure I will do what I can from home, but it will not amount to the great start I could have given my kids,” Courtot wrote.

Courtot said she has had to deal with a number of disappointments recently, including several pay cuts as the result of furloughs. To top it off, she said, as a result of the contract that is now in effect, she is now facing a huge increase in her health insurance contributions. Teachers are being asked to take on too much, she said.

“I know the state of the economy, I buy gas and groceries along with additional school suplies for my students. I also take work home on furlough days, weekends, evenings and holidays!” she said.

On Friday, Big Island Board of Education member Brian De Lima, who was appointed by Abercrombie along with the rest of the board, said that he and his fellow BOE members were dismayed by the course the negotiations took.

“This is definitely not the most ideal situation,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would have wanted it to go down this way. As a board, we completely support our teachers. But if it didn’t get done the way it got done, there would have been the need to reduce the budget by even more money, which would have had consequences,” he said.

De Lima argued that everyone has had to accept cuts, including the board, whose staff was reduced this year from 11 full-time staff members to three. The BOE has also cut its meetings from 100 a year to 26, he said.

“Last year, they had a budget of well over $1 million. Our budget is now around $300,000,” he said. “That’s a significant reduction. … If we’re going to ask for sacrifice, we wanted to start with ourselves as a board.”

De Lima said he understands the frustration that teachers feel, but he suggested that they should direct that frustration at their elected representatives in the legislature.

“All we can do is work with our appropriations,” he said. “If they want more money for the schools, they’ve got to bring it up with elected officials. That’s where the effort needs to be placed.”

East Hawaii members of HSTA-Retired say they plan to take that advice by taking their grievances straight to the top this week. Abercrombie is scheduled to spend Tuesday at multiple events in Hilo, and some members said Friday they plan to congregate and hold signs at each of his stops to express their displeasure.

Email Colin M. Stewart at

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