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State offers teachers 1% bonuses

  • BRUCE ASATO / MAY 2015

    Corey Rosenlee

The state has offered public school teachers an annual 1 percent lump-sum bonus that the teachers union called an unacceptable and “paltry” offer in an internal email sent to members tonight.

In the latest round of contract talks with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, negotiators for the state offered a 1 percent bonus to be paid out in October of each of the next two years, according to the email, which was obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The proposed bonus would not amount to a raise because it would not be rolled into a teacher’s base pay. The bonuses would be calculated individually, taking 1 percent of each teacher’s salary to determine the amount. With the average teacher earning roughly $56,000, the average bonus would be around $500.

Union officials contend bonuses at the proposed level would be offset by expected increases in health insurance premiums for the HSTA’s 13,500 members. There has been no offer from the state to increase its share of the premiums, according to the HSTA. The cost split varies among plans for teachers, but under the most popular health plan, the state covers 59 percent of the premium.

“A 1 percent lump sum bonus for the average teacher would amount to approximately $550 per year. After taxes and rising health-care costs, most teachers would see a decrease in their take-home pay,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said in the email. “This is unacceptable. Even though Hawaii has a teacher shortage, the state last year reported a $1 billion surplus and teachers in Hawaii are paid anywhere from $4,000 to $25,000 less than the average of their mainland counterparts. This is the state’s best offer?”

When reached by phone tonight, Rosenlee said the level of teacher salaries is contributing to the state’s perennial teacher shortage.

“Hawaii has a teacher shortage crisis. Over 10,000 kids every day go to class and don’t have a qualified teacher,” he said. “As a state, this needs to be a priority that we want to solve, and you can’t solve a teacher shortage crisis when you basically have the lowest-paid teachers in the nation. So we’re hoping that the leadership in Hawaii will take a stand and say, ‘Yes, making sure that every child has a qualified teacher is a priority, and we are going to fund it.’”

Although the Department of Education had 96 percent of teaching positions filled — some 12,600 positions — by the first day of school in the fall, there were still 531 vacancies, including 126 unfilled special-education teaching positions. The DOE, which typically hires 1,100 to 1,200 new teachers annually, had to fill the gap with either instructors without credentials who are working toward a teaching degree, or with substitute teachers.

The union recently shared with the Board of Education a study it conducted comparing Hawaii’s teacher salaries with those of teachers in 10 cities where the cost of living is similar to Hawaii, including San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; New York; and Washington, D.C.

The HSTA analysis found Hawaii’s starting salary of $46,601 for beginning licensed teachers ranks eighth lowest among 10 comparable school districts, while the state’s highest salary of $85,488 for the most experienced teachers ranks ninth lowest — without adjusting for cost of living.

“We are deeply disappointed that the state is not taking our teacher shortage seriously. This crisis is hurting students in the classroom and we need to be able to attract and retain qualified teachers,” Osa Tui, McKinley High School’s registrar and chairperson of HSTA’s negotiations committee, said in the union email.

Diane Mokuau, a librarian at Molokai High and vice chair of the negotiations committee, added: “When you factor in our high cost of living, Hawaii’s public school teachers are the worst paid in the country. Giving them a 1 percent lump sum payment does not even begin to address the problem.”

By comparison, under HSTA’s 2013-17 labor contract, the union secured annual raises of at least 3 percent through a combination of raises and pay grade step-ups in alternating years. The union used a so-called reopener clause to negotiate additional compensation for the last two years of the contract, including a one-time $2,000 bonus and a 1.8 percent raise that will take effect June 30, when the contract expires.

The union is encouraging the public to show its support for teachers at a Feb. 13 event during Teacher Institute Day, when the HSTA will stage a march on the Capitol “to demand a better contract for our teachers and for the schools our keiki deserve.”

Rosenlee said the 1 percent bonus offer was the first time money had been placed on the table. Union representatives and state negotiators met for about six hours today in their fourth bargaining session.

The current contract, which teachers ratified in April 2013, ended a contentious two-year labor dispute. Teachers previously had been working under a “last, best and final” contract unilaterally imposed in 2011 under former Gov. Neil Abercrombie that hit teachers with pay cuts and a larger share of health insurance premiums.

The teachers union isn’t the only group in contract talks with the state.

Labor negotiations are underway with 14 units of the state’s public worker unions. Gov. David Ige did not, however, include money for raises in the proposed executive budget he unveiled in December.

Ige’s administration made presentations to the unions late last year, warning that a record-setting billion-dollar budget surplus was already spent and not available for collectively bargained benefits. The administration initially proposed that at least two unions — those representing firefighters and University of Hawaii faculty — accept no raises for the next two years.

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  • “Cost of Living”. Only teachers must deal with this or all others? It seems every time their salary is in discussion, the cost of living is brought up. Good grief!

    • One of the factors which contributes to teachers leaving the profession is the cost of living in Hawaii and the amount of money teachers earn relative to counterparts on the mainland. Many feel that to recruit and retain teachers the state must address the cost of living concerns, otherwise the state will continue to come up short when filling their teacher positions. This is why it always comes up and you are correct that teachers are not the only ones impacted by the cost of living in Hawaii.

  • You get what you pay for, and when you pay so little and offer so little in the way of amends, you make clear how unimportant education is to you (and the professionally prepared, committed teachers who do the educating). This is how you make the recruitment and retention crisis worse, this is how you deny students a qualified teacher in classroom after classroom, this is how you put substitute after substitute in classrooms month after month and year after year.

    “The beatings will continue until morale improves” is supposed to be a JOKE, Governor! With offers like this, however, the joke’s on all of us who want better schools in Hawaiʻi.

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