Unions argue over teacher bonus

  • Contributed

    Randy Perreira is executive director of the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association.

  • Contributed

    Corey Rosenlee is president of the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association.

LIHU‘E — State lawmakers passed a bill on the last day of the 2021 legislative session, that would give all public-school teachers a one-time. $2,200 bonus payment. Two unions are in disagreement over the incentive.

Jonathan Medeiros, a language-arts teacher at Kaua‘i High School, expressed his gratitude for the proposed bonus payment, which still needs Gov. David Ige’s signature to become law.

“We basically just feel grateful,” Medeiros said. “That money will make many lives easier, even briefly, and the gesture makes us feel like our state legislators care about our work and our lives.”

HB613 allows the state Department of Education to expend federal pandemic-relief funds totaling $29.7 million on programs and projects that include the bonus for educator-workforce stabilization.

“The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association is extremely grateful to state lawmakers for unanimously approving a school-budget bill (HB613) that includes one-time, $2,200 payments to teachers to help combat the teacher-shortage crisis and stabilize the state’s teaching force,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president, in a statement.

Rosenlee said incentivizing educators to stay on the job next school year by providing them one-time payments is an appropriate use of federal pandemic-relief funds and a move other school districts across the country have also done. The U.S. Department of Education specifically mentioned these funds should be used to avoid “devastating layoffs and hiring additional educators to address learning loss.”

According to Rosenlee, each year Hawai‘i faces 1,000 publi- school educator vacancies as part of a chronic teacher shortage. These payments will help retain more qualified educators since their pay ranks among the lowest in the country when Hawai‘i’s high cost of living is factored in.

“Mahalo to the legislative leadership for taking action to ensure there are enough teachers to open the schools safely in the fall,” Rosenlee said.

“We’d like to particularly thank Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate Education Chair Michelle Kidani, House Education Chair Justin Woodson, Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke for having the foresight to pass this legislation. Mahalo, also, to all legislators for their unanimous support of HB613,” said Rosenlee.

Meanwhile, Hawai‘i Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira released a statement on Thursday in disagreement with the bill because the union believes it favors one group of workers instead of all.

“With distance learning, it is now more apparent than ever that success hinges on a community,” Perreira said, “educators — including special education and classroom assistants, principals, counselors, librarians, specialists, support staff, custodians, food-service employees, parents, and more, working together.

“It is unconscionable that the Legislature disregarded collective bargaining and granted this generous cash bonus to one group of employees while making significant departmental cuts elsewhere, like in higher education, which will likely lead to layoffs for others.”

The HGEA represents over 7,350 employees in the DOE, and the union cannot support singling out and rewarding one profession over all others, he said.

The federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund monies were intended to provide schools with the necessary resources to maintain the operation and continuity of all school services and not just the services provided by one profession, Perreira said.

State Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who represents the North Shore and portions of the Eastside, broke down the reason why the payment is for teachers only.

“My understanding is that Elementary and Secondary School Relief funds were used for the one-time teacher bonus,” Nakamura said. “Unfortunately, to comply with federal law, these funds could only be used for teachers, and not administrators and support staff.”

County Councilmember Felicia Cowden likes the idea of teachers being recognized for their efforts.

“Teachers have had a particularly difficult year, especially those who are simultaneously educating their own children,” Cowden said. “Honoring their efforts and tenacity has merit. The continued retention of our teachers benefits our whole society.”

State DOE Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent Paul Zina was contacted but declined to comment.


Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.

  1. YuCalJoe May 9, 2021 4:46 am Reply

    They should get more. Programming the kids to forget their culture, race, religion, and being of strong positive honest character takes lots of money.

  2. Uncleaina May 9, 2021 8:01 am Reply

    How embarrassing. Give them nothing. You offer $2200 for the poor teachers who have done so much, but then the nasty union wants $2200 for EVERYONE – even the cafeteria workers who didn’t make meals for months or bus drivers who drove nobody. Ok that’s not greedy or stupid; it’s BOTH. Just no. Pay the teachers or forget about the whole thing.

  3. Joe Public May 9, 2021 1:51 pm Reply

    We need to clean out the legislator. Why give anyone any bonus when we are just coming out of a pandemic, almost all of us couldn’t work, we are all struggling to not go “houseless” what a bad damn joke!!

    This is just because they have the largest union in government and politicians always looking for votes instead of what is good for the rest of us.

  4. Susan May 9, 2021 6:24 pm Reply

    A bonus FOR WHAT??? Public school teachers everywhere – Hawaii and the mainland – got paid full salary with full benefits to sit around at home in their underwear for an entire year just to blah-blah-blah on Zoom and assign their students some apps to swipe at.

    Then when it was time to re-open schools earlier this year and get out children back in the classroom, the teachers hid behind their mafia-like unions and resisted returning. Even now, some public schools in Kauai are still closed yet their teachers are still getting paid.

    And someone somewhere thinks these teachers deserve a bonus?

    How about instead: slash the salary by 50% of any public school teacher who refuses to get vaccinated and return to the classroom, and give the other 50% AND their bonus to the working parents who have had to quit their jobs in order to stay home and home-school their children all year?

    1. Guy May 10, 2021 9:19 pm Reply

      If it’s such easy money, why aren’t YOU doing it? Maybe because it’s hard work even for smart people?

      1. Suan May 11, 2021 8:46 am Reply

        Way to totally misread what I said, @Guy. Maybe YOU need to go back to school, too. There’s nothing in my comment about “easy money”. Where did you even get that from?

        I do not envy any teacher who stands in a classroom all day dealing with students and their attitudes. Teachers definitely earn their salaries (minuscule as they are).

        But there’s no denying that a large majority of public school teachers and their unions took advantage of the Covid crisis this past year as an excuse to not return to the classroom.

        Private school teachers have not stopped working all year – and there were 0 Covid cases in Kauai’s private schools.

        Yet for some reason these public school teacher think they are special (and at higher risk, which is scientifically implausible) and thus no longer have to do the job that tax payers are paying them to do…AND now they also want bonuses on top of it? What a joke.

        All distant-learning teachers should only be earning 50% of their salaries. Give the rest to the parents.

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