Educators push for progress in contract talks

LIHUE — Marla Domingo, a preschool teacher at the Elsie Wilcox Elementary School, said she didn’t want to be on the sidewalks Tuesday morning.

“I don’t want to be here,” she said. “I want to be in class getting ready for my students.”

Domingo was one of more than 50 teachers from Wilcox School who were joined by students, parents and administrators in a sign-waving campaign to raise awareness about the lack of progress in negotiations on the teachers’ contract.

“It is important to raise awareness about what I feel is a lack of the negotiating process,” Domingo said. “Our contract ends in June, and then we’ll be working without a contract. That is not a good thing.”

The group at Wilcox was part of a statewide campaign coordinated by the Hawaii School Teachers Association. The HSTA’s contract represents 13,500 teachers.

“Teachers would much rather be in our classrooms this morning, preparing lessons for the day,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said. “But our contract isn’t settled and we feel that the state has not been prioritizing bargaining.”

Key members of the state’s negotiating team have not been present at contract talks, Rosenlee said.

“The state’s chief negotiator and Board of Education chair failed to attend our last session on Feb. 23,” Rosenlee said. “This has been a continuing pattern which disrespects the bargaining process and makes it extremely difficult to engage in meaningful discussions toward settling the teachers’ contract.”

Mike McCartney, Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff, said the Board of Education, schools superintendent, and the state’s chief negotiator have always been represented at the bargaining table.

“The Hawaii State Teachers Association Bargaining Unit 5 is one of 14 units whose contracts expire on June 30,” McCartney said. “The chief negotiator will become more involved in discussions with the HSTA once the Council on Revenues makes its revenue forecast on March 13.”

Domingo said the state’s current salary offer from Jan. 19 has not changed.

“The state is still offering a one-time bonus of 1 percent, or equal to about $550 a year,” Rosenlee said. “Health premiums are slated to increase by an average $830 a year for our members. This would result in their take-home pay being decreased under this proposal.”

He said HSTA is committed to improving public education.

“We are proposing ways to increase public education funding, including solutions to reduce the teacher shortage crisis,” the HSTA president said. “Our contract proposals address the most vulnerable students’ needs, including those with special needs and English language learners. We are proposing language to address the need for lower class sizes.”

Domingo has been a teacher on Kauai for 14 years.

“This is important to us, and our students,” she said. “I have a passion about this, and settling our contract.”

The HSTA membership will decide whether a strike takes place following the current contract expiration.

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