By Bill Mossman, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsNovember 3, 2009
FOSTER VILLAGE, Hawaii - Representatives from U.S. Army Garrison-Oahu (USAG-Oahu) recently joined forces with other military service branches, hoping their combined efforts would yield answers to the question on many parents' minds these days: "What are we going to do with the children when teachers go on furlough'"
Beginning Friday, Oct. 23, thousands of students in the Hawaii public school system will be left out of their classrooms - the unfortunate victims of massive budgetary cuts occurring across the nation, which have forced teachers to take unpaid days off.
With many military parents scrambling to find suitable services to care for their sons and daughters, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) Education Task Force decided to deal with the issue by huddling, here, at the Oahu Veterans Center, Oct. 7, along with 50 representatives from the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Hawaii Army National Guard.
"This is your chance to hear others' ideas and tweak them to suit your purposes," said event co-facilitator Charles Hendryx, Education Technology program manager, PACOM, to those in attendance.
During the meeting, participants discussed ways to pool their resources and tackle looming questions regarding child care services and potential activities for military youth on furlough days. They also addressed how high school seniors could successfully complete their required senior project with the loss of instructional time, and receive mentoring through the School Partnership Program (SPP) and Hired! - an apprenticeship service offering $500 stipends for 180 hours of work.
Additionally, the task force considered ways to cultivate a military child's "sense of belonging" through enrollment in Army sports programs or in the new EDGE! (Excel, Develop, Grow and Experience)Aca,!E+program - an out-of-school program developed by the Army's Child, Youth and School Services (CYS2).
Following three hours of lively discussions, representatives from each branch decided to hold off on any definitive answers. Instead, they agreed to keep the channels of communication open, with potential solutions coming out of future meetings.
"It is unreasonable to assume that we can be geared up and ready to go with a complete program by the first furlough day," said Col. Mike Davino, director for Manpower, Personnel, and Administration, PACOM, who helped lead the discussion. "This is at least a two-year event, so we will need to continue to evolve."
Lt. Col. Richard Gledhill, commander, USAG-Oahu, agreed with Davino, saying the issue is too complex to make any hurried decisions. He further cautioned other military branches that there was no "silver bullet" to the furlough problem, with a myriad of issues, including transportation questions, still needing to be resolved.
The Army, Gledhill concluded, would extend a helping hand to fellow service members once it had a firm grasp on exactly what services would be available for Soldiers and their families.
"We all want to be the big team player," Gledhill said, "but from the Army's position, we have to define our own problems and make sure we have adequate resources tied to us, so that we can deliver those services to our family members and service members. After that, we'd be willing to look at this and say, 'Here are the areas where we have capacity to serve (other military branches).'"
To deal with the expected $227 million budget deficit the Department of Education (DoE) is facing, the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) ratified a contract late last month calling for the closing of the state's public schools over a series of Fridays this school year. In doing so, teachers chose 17 furlough days over layoffs, with the unpaid days representing a 7.9 percent cut in pay.
As it stands, the Army figures to be the hardest hit among service branches, with an estimated 7,000 dependents - or, roughly half of all military children attending Hawaii public schools - looking for somewhere to pass the time on "Furlough Fridays."
Davino said he looked forward to subsequent task force meetings and the solutions they might yield. However, he warned those in attendance not to expect the 17 furlough days, which represent approximately 10 percent of the school year, to be brought back anytime soon.
"Once something is cut back, it's hard to restore," he said.