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 firstname.lastname@example.org.