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Pay hikes proposed for rural, special education and Hawaiian immersion teachers

                                Gov. David Ige spoke at the press conference at Central Middle School.


    Gov. David Ige spoke at the press conference at Central Middle School.

Lindsay Ball, who oversees public schools in rural spots including Hana, Lanai and Molokai, says the shortage of teachers is so dire that they can’t even get applicants to apply.

“They don’t even come at all, so we have substitute teachers,” the complex area superintendent said. “We just simply don’t even have teachers to interview… So we need to do something different.”

He spoke Tuesday at a press conference at Central Middle School called by Gov. David Ige, who is teaming up with top education officials to try to do something different — by dramatically increasing teacher pay in the most critical shortage areas.

The proposal calls for pay differentials of $10,000 a year for special education teachers, $8,000 for Hawaiian immersion teachers, and $3,000 to $8,000 for teachers in hard-to-staff areas, depending on the severity of the need.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Board of Education Chairwoman Catherine Payne, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee and Kamehameha Schools CEO Jack Wong joined forces at the press conference to endorse the plan.

“This is an issue of equity,” Kishimoto said. “Inaction is not an option and that is why we are here today.”

The school board, which has authority to set pay differentials, will vote on it at a special meeting Thursday.

The average salary for licensed teachers in Hawaii’s public schools is $68,000 a year, according to HSTA. Pay starts at about $49,000 and ranges up to $89,000.

“This is an exciting and bold initiative to really move public education forward in the state of Hawaii,” Ige said. “This is the first step of a comprehensive program that we are looking at to end the teacher shortage, looking at those positions that have been the toughest to staff all across the state.”

If the school board approves, officials aim to start the pay differentials on Jan. 7, midway through the fiscal year. The hope is to influence teachers during the transfer period at the end of February when they decide whether to stay on the job or seek a different position.

The differentials will be a priority in Ige’s supplemental budget request to the Legislature for the 2021 fiscal year, which will be released later this month. And he will be working to identify funds to start it as early as January.

“We would be making proposals that would adjust funding for the department in the current fiscal year,” Ige said.

Altogether, the differentials would cost nearly $14.7 million for the second half of this fiscal year and $30.4 million for the 2021 fiscal year.

“The question is, do we wait for a full year before we take action, which would mean that there would be no improvement until 2021?” Ige asked.“We felt compelled to take action now.”

“Is there a risk?” he added. “Absolutely. I’m certainly engaged and will be before the Legislature with the budget to express my feelings about why it’s important.”

In the 2018-19 school year, just 84% of special-education positions and 34% of Hawaiian immersion positions were filled by qualified and licensed teachers. As of now, 1,691 special-education teachers, 2,109 teachers in hard-to-staff locations and 107 Hawaiian immersion teachers would qualify for the proposed differentials.

Officials framed the proposal as a way to help ensure all students get a high quality education, no matter their circumstances.

“Today is the first step of a multi-phased plan to ensure that all our keiki, regardless of where they live, what their special needs are or their ethnicity, are taught by highly qualified teachers,” Rosenlee said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the total cost of proposed pay differentials for the current fiscal year.

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