HONOLULU Public school teachers across the state and University of Hawaii faculty members went on strike Thursday after last-ditch salary negotiations failed to produce new contracts.
The walkouts shut down public education in Hawaii, which has the nation's only statewide public school system. Some 180,000 public school students and 42,000 university students were affected, and parents of younger children scrambled to arrange day care.
"We are ready to go the full stretch," said Rebecca Wimmer, a first-grade teacher at Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina, Maui. She and other schoolteachers took to the picket lines at 6 a.m.
"On Strike" signs were posted on the door of the headquarters of the Hawaii State Teachers Assn. late Wednesday afternoon after the state's chief negotiator left the building, telling reporters that talks had ended. The association represents nearly 13,000 public school teachers.
Three hours later, the UH Professional Assembly, which represents 3,100 University of Hawaii faculty members, announced it, too, was at an impasse.
"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 last statewide public school teachers strike was in 1973 and lasted 19 days. For university professors, the last strike was in 1983.
Salary issues were the main stumbling block. Cayetano said the public school 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. For the faculty, Cayetano had said the state had increased its pay raise offer from about 10 percent to 11 percent. The union has demanded 13 percent.
J.N. Musto, executive director of the faculty union, said a major stumbling block was the state's refusal to grant any salary increase to about 300 university lecturers.
"We've made it clear, we will not settle this contract if the lecturers get nothing," Musto said.
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 today. Starting next week, 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. Union leaders say their top priority is to address Hawaii's growing shortage of qualified teachers and the state's offer would not accomplish that.