Teachers’ bid for restraining order fails

A Maui teacher running for vice president of the 13,500-member Hawaii teachers union is urging members to “take their frustrations out on the ballot box” and vote for new leadership Tuesday.

The plea from King Kamehameha III Elementary School teacher Justin Hughey follows a state Circuit Court judge’s ruling Friday that denied Hughey’s running mate’s request for a temporary restraining order. The requested order would have stopped the redoing of an election that Hughey claims he and Campbell High School teacher Corey Rosenlee already won. Now, the new election will proceed.

Earlier, Hughey, a 2nd- and 3rd-grade special education teacher at the Lahaina school, had apparently been elected to lead the Hawaii State Teachers Association alongside Rosenlee, the union presidential candidate, and secretary-treasurer candidate Amy Perusso of Mililani High School.

However, the union’s board of directors rejected the election last week, citing “voting irregularities.” Then, Rosenlee sought help from the court.

On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang chose not to accept the motion because he believed he “might” not have jurisdiction to decide the case, according to Rosenlee’s attorneys.

“It wasn’t a sure thing to begin with, but we felt we needed to go on this path and see what happens,” Hughey said Friday of the court action. “My biggest thing, though, is I hope teachers don’t give in to cynicism and not turn out to vote, because there’s 10,000 teachers who don’t normally vote.

“If there was ever a reason to vote, now’s the time.”

Outgoing HSTA President Wil Okabe said in a prepared statement that he was “pleased” with Chang’s ruling, which allows the HSTA to “ensure a fair election process that will allow all of our members an opportunity to vote.”

“While this has been a difficult situation for all the candidates, the HSTA board of directors and all of our teachers, we hope that you understand that the board’s decision was in the best interests of our members – to ensure that all of you have the opportunity to participate in the election,” Okabe said.

HSTA officials said the new ballots will be counted by the union’s elections committee and overseen by representatives from the League of Women Voters. In Maui County, polling locations will be located on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Roughly 1,200 union members are in Maui County, and many are dealing with graduations, year-end assignments and clearing out their classrooms for the summer. Hughey said he has been trying to reach out to as many teachers as he can, but it has been difficult.

“There’s not a heck of a lot of time left from now and Tuesday,” he said. “Right now, it’s just word of mouth, and reaching as many teachers we know and those teachers reaching out to as many as they know.”

Alan Isbell, a 4th-grade teacher at Wailuku Elementary School, has supported Hughey’s slate and encouraged members to vote and “show that this was not a fluke.”

“They won fair and square, and let’s just show that they did,” Isbell said. “It is change, and the union desperately needs change.”

Rosenlee, Hughey and Perusso would be replacing current board members or candidates supported by the current union leadership. For example, current HSTA Vice President Joan Lewis opposed Rosenlee for president.

The board held a meeting May 16 to consider certifying the election but found it “seriously flawed” and voted 21-8 in favor of rejecting it. Exactly what the flaws and discrepancies in the election are have not been identified by Okabe or other union officials.

Karolyn Mossman, head of the special education department at Kalama Intermediate School, said that she is disappointed with the union’s board and believes there needs to be more oversight.

“I’m not convinced that the board acted appropriately,” Mossman said. “I’m just hoping that the teachers turn out in large numbers and vote . . . because they really need to take ownership of the process and choose the leadership that they want.”

Whether the election will forever have a black eye and be tainted with suspicion, the outcome will be determined by the teachers who go to vote, Mossman said. She said if voter turnout is lower than the first election, “then that puts the whole election into question.”

“I really, really do think this is all unnecessary,” she said. “I truly feel in my heart that, for whatever reason, they (union board) had a hard time accepting that the other group possibly won.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.