Hawaii's public school teachers, university professors strike

Thursday, April 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ The nation's only statewide public school system was shut down Thursday as nearly 13,000 teachers gave up their pointers for picket signs in a showdown over pay raises.

At the same time, 3,100 University of Hawaii faculty members at 10 campuses were also preparing to go on strike after reaching an impasse on a new contract.

``This is a day no one in the state wanted to see, and a day we tried very hard to avoid,'' Gov. Ben Cayetano said.

The walkouts will affect 182,328 public school students and 41,933 university students. The strike does not affect Hawaii's private schools, attended by about 20 percent of the school-age children.

``Money is the critical issue. We've agreed virtually on all the other issues, but we're just stuck on money,'' said Joan Husted, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

``On Strike'' signs were posted on the door of the association's headquarters late Wednesday after the state's chief negotiator left the building, telling reporters that talks had ended.

Three hours later, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly announced it too couldn't reach an agreement, despite an 11th-hour offer from the state. The state's last offer was for an 11 percent pay increase over two years while the union demanded 13 percent.

Cayetano said the teachers union rejected the state's offer of pay raises totaling 14 percent over two years and held fast to its demand for a 22 percent increase over four years, retroactive to July 1999.

Hawaii's teachers earn between $29,000 and $58,000 a year.

Superintendent of Education Paul LeMahieu said public schools throughout the state would be closed Thursday and Friday, after which administrators will determine on a school-by-school basis what classes can resume.

The governor said the state's latest offer to teachers raised the state's cost 40 percent over its original proposal, but still left the two sides $100 million apart.

The union's top priority is to address Hawaii's growing shortage of qualified teachers and the state's offer would not accomplish that, Husted said.