Hawaii facing teacher shortage

LIHUE — While the rest of the state is seeking to fill hundreds of teaching positions, the number of teachers needed on the Garden Isle is only handful.

Bill Arakaki, Kauai complex area superintendent, said the island has one full-time and one part-time vacancy for an elementary school teacher and one for special education instructor at the secondary level.

“We had 4.5-teacher position vacancies at the start of school,” he said. “Two positions are the process of being filled.”

For the 2016-17 school year, Kauai has approximately 700 teaching positions that teach nearly 9,200 students.

Kauai is a stark contrast compared to the rest of the state.

Officials with the Hawaii Department of Education said there were 625 positions that still needed to be filled as of last week, even after 100 new teachers were hired during the summer. State data show the number of teacher vacancies more than doubled within two months this summer.

According to the DOE, the starting salary of a newly hired teacher who hasn’t completed a state approved teacher education program and has one year or less of experience is just over $35,000. The number jumps to over $46,000 once a SATEP is complete.

The low salary is among the reasons why the department is struggling to hire teachers.

“More teachers are leaving, and fewer teachers are going into the profession,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents 13,500 teachers. “We cannot find even emergency hires for these positions.”

DOE officials contend that the hiring process is selective and that more focus on a mentoring program for new teachers will continue to boost retention rates.

“Our overall trend is positive with regard to our retention of teachers in their first five years,” said Stephen Schatz, deputy superintendent for the Department of Education. “We have reason for optimism.”

Arakaki said Kauai is supported by the Growing Our Own Teachers on Kauai program, which is in partnership with Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay and the University of Hawaii.

“Kauai has wonderful support from community, business and families in providing names and information of potential teacher candidates who are planning to return to Kauai or a new resident coming to the island,” Arakaki said.

Next summer, the labor contract for teachers is expected to expire. The union plans to advocate better working conditions, Rosenlee said in a report.

“If we want to fix the teacher crisis in Hawaii, we have to empower teachers, treat them like professionals and pay them like the professionals they are,” he said.

There are currently 180,000 students in the state.

According to data from the 2014-15 school year, of the 785 teachers hired in school year 2010-11 in the state, 60 percent were still employed five years later, marking the highest five-year retention rate in at least a decade.

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The Associated Press contributed to the report.

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