Teachers group seeks higher pay

HONOLULU — During contract talks with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the state of Hawaii offered a 1 percent lump sum payment, about $550, each of the next two years to its teachers.

The state is also not offering an increase in its share of health benefit contributions, which means that Hawaii’s teachers will continue to pay more out of pocket for health coverage because of anticipated rising health premiums.

“It’s not an increase at all. You basically get a check of $550 each year and that’s it. The teachers are frustrated and angry,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president. “Teachers are leaving and the number of teachers leaving is increasing dramatically, especially on Kauai. Kauai is notorious for high teacher turnover rate. Is this acceptable? Are we denying those children opportunity? The answer right now, is that we are.”

Both sides met for nearly six hours Thursday in their fourth bargaining session in Honolulu, discussing the state’s salary proposal, budget situation, teachers’ working conditions, special education, charter schools and other issues.

Entering negotiations, HSTA wanted its teachers to get their equal share and be paid the same amount as their Mainland counterparts.

“We’re not asking to be the best paid teachers in the nation, we’re just asking to get paid similar to our counterparts,” Rosenlee told The Garden Island. “And we’re hoping that if we can get up to that range, then that is going to help prevent teachers from leaving.”

According to Rosenlee, teachers in Hawaii are paid anywhere from $4,000 to $25,000 less than teachers on the Mainland.

Osa Tui, registrar at McKinley High and chair of HSTA’s Negotiations Committee, said in a news release that the rate of teacher turnover is “hurting students in the classroom and we need to be able to attract and retain qualified teachers.”

“How can we create excellence in Hawaii’s schools when more than half our new teachers leave within their first five years of teaching?” Tui said.

The DOE did not respond to TGI’s request for comment.

On Feb. 13, HSTA will lead a march on Oahu at the Capitol to demonstrate frustration over what members see as the lack of financial support from the state for its teachers.

“These teachers quickly discover that they want to have kids one day and buy a house and start a family, and they won’t be able to do that here. And so they move, where they know they will get paid better, where the cost of living is lower,” Rosenlee said.

In the last five years, the number of teachers who resigned from their posts rose nearly 50 percent while the number of education program graduates from colleges and universities in Hawaii has dropped by about 25 percent in that same time period, according to HSTA.

The next negotiating session is set for Feb. 23.

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