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Furlough blues

Economy | Some efforts to cut costs and save money have ended up costing states more

LOS ANGELES-As state and local governments face record budget gaps, at least 21 states have scheduled worker furloughs as a way to reduce labor costs and save money. In some cases furloughs are proving to be a bitter pill, and not merely for workers involved.

In California, some across-the-board furloughs are costing the state more money than it is saving in labor costs. Managers at state prisons and other 24-hour institutions, citing healthcare staff shortages, are having employees report to work (and sometimes receive overtime pay) on their furlough days and are sometimes hiring private nurses and doctors at a higher cost to the state. A California Senate report said such costs have wiped out a projected $108 million dollars in furlough savings.

A new study from the University of California-Berkeley claims that state furloughs are saving the state much less than projected, due to revenue collection losses and future repayments to state pension plans.

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Meanwhile, in Hawaii, the state's Department of Education plans to furlough teachers for 17 days this school year by canceling classes on Fridays and shortening the school year to 163 instructional days. Hawaii was ranked 47th in eight grade test scores in 2007.

Hawaii's teachers approved the plan in a new two-year union contract, but parents launched a class-action suit, claiming the plan will do serious harm to parents of special needs children and families who have to organize new day care schedules.

Parents want some of the furlough days rescheduled to land on teacher preparation days rather than instructional days, and other days grouped around holidays and vacation periods to prevent disruption to family schedules.

Hawaii's most famous native son, President Barack Obama, has called for more time in school for the nation's students.

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