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Teacher faces dire straits and a lack of information

By John C. Nippolt

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:23 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011



When teachers have to read the paper or watch television to find out where they stand on contract negotiations, something is wrong.

Without informing the Hawaii State Teachers Association, a final contract offer from the Department of Education arrived in my mail last Friday. The "last and best" offer is not an offer. Consider why this is being done.

Teachers need the HSTA. It has fought and won grievances for me, and I believe in that arm of our union.

I hate budget cuts and the slashing of funds for education. I am well aware that every state and union in the nation are facing these same problems. OK. But what I don't understand is the lack of inclusiveness: non-sharing of data that needs to be presented to all parties involved before, and not after, contracts go into effect. Why are important updates and timely information, always last-minute, coming from the media — not from the state, the DOE, or the HSTA?

One should not forget that teachers already suffered substantial pay cuts for the past two years which also affected many teachers' retirement benefits.

National economic woes were catastrophic for all work forces — so much so that then-Gov. Linda Lingle implemented Furlough Fridays. To reduce a state deficit by enforcing a schedule of public-school closures, direct orders were issued for teachers to stay away from their classrooms on those days.

A rallying cry and plea from the community at large went up to end the remainder of school closures. Obviously, teacher commitment to the children in the state meant buckling down and getting on with educating children, never mind any other issue. But like everyone, teachers do not want to work for free.

Dark clouds loom again and as the HSTA possibly drifts toward calling for a strike, here is one teacher who cannot afford that luxury. But how can I cross picket lines and risk being forever ostracized by my colleagues? I cannot pay my bills without my salary and I'll be damned before I put my wife and myself on the brink of homelessness. Believe it, there are many of us here in Hawaii who live paycheck to paycheck.

I knew when I entered this profession that my salary would not be large. Children's education comes first and better teachers deserve better pay, but there are no funds available and the cost of living continues to increase while teacher salaries continue to decrease. The DOE can't pay me a fair wage for my expertise, performance and success. I'm a highly qualified, certified professional educator who receives no compensation for extra hours, extra education, knowledge and life experience as a professional artist that I bring to the classroom.

I explain to the handful of parents who attend our school's open-house night each year why I'm there. Not to serve the governor, the state Legislature, the DOE, the HSTA or the bureaucrats who run those archaic institutions. Not school administrators or the parents of my students. I heed their advice, follow their instructions and obey all rules. I'm under the gun to comply with orders from all these bosses, but I don't serve them. I teach so I can serve one group of people. Those people are my students.

So, I know the outcome. Strike or not, I will have to meet the demands for pay cuts, increases in medical co-payments and other "last and best offers" from the state. I just think the process should be handled better.






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