HONOLULU — Hawaii has created the nation's shortest school year under a new union contract that closes schools on most Fridays for the remainder of the academic calendar.
The deal whacks 17 days from the school year for budget-cutting reasons and has education advocates incensed that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar at a time when it already ranks near the bottom in national educational achievement.
While many school districts have laid off or furloughed teachers, reduced pay and planning days and otherwise cut costs, Hawaii's 171,000 public schools students now find themselves with only 163 instructional days, compared with 180 in most districts in the United States.
"The 16-year-old in me is pretty excited that I'll be able to chill on those days," said Mark Aoki, a junior at Roosevelt High in Honolulu. "But overall within me, what I truly believe is that we'll regret this."
The deal has parents and education authorities up in arms, including families scrambling to find day care for the off days. Parents of special-needs students are considering suing the state.
"It's just not enough time for the kids to learn," said Valerie Sonoda, president of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association.
The new contract, approved by 81 percent of voting teachers, stipulates 17 furlough Fridays during which schools will be closed, with the first happening Friday. The teachers accepted a concurrent pay cut of 8 percent.
More than a quarter of the state's general budget goes to the state Department of Education. When Republican Gov. Linda Lingle attempted to balance the budget, she withheld 14 percent from estimated salaries, or $227 million, this year from the public school system.
Hawaii schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto acknowledges that learning time will be lost and students will suffer, but she says schools will try to increase their efforts during the remaining school days to cram in as much teaching as they can.