Gov talks about teacher difficulties, EES on Maui

Maui teachers gathered at Baldwin High July 29 for a talk story session with Gov. David Ige that covered a variety of topics and sometimes got downright emotional.

Reene Hatakayama, a first grade teacher at Wailuku Elementary, moved back home to Maui with her husband and two children a year ago from the Pacific Northwest, where she had been teaching for years. She took a $13,000 pay cut to move to Maui from Washington state, where there is not income tax.

“This past year was the most difficult year of my career in teaching,” she told the governor.  Like many new DOE teachers, she said she felt like, “What the heck did I get myself into?”

“What do you mean my first paycheck isn’t going to come until September? How come I’m not getting my credit for my master’s degree until November? How come you’re taking out $1,600 for medical insurance for my family two months past that I didn’t even know I had. One paycheck is $400,” Hatakayama said.

“What do you say to me to stay, when I want to go back (to the mainland)? I’m a local girl and a kanaka maole who wants to raise my children here. What do you say to me?” she asked the governor, choking back tears.

Ige responded by saying, “We need to do a better job. We don’t. I’d be the first guy to admit that. We do a poor job of supporting teachers.”

“My wife’s a teacher and that first year, she came home a lot, crying. It’s a tough job. We don’t do a good job supporting teachers. New teachers as well as experienced teachers,” Ige added.

“Until the state puts their money where their mouth is, the problem is not going to change,” said David Negaard, an English teacher at Baldwin High School.

Ige responded to their concerns by saying, “I really do believe that it starts and ends in the classroom. I just believe that my job is to get money and resources out there. I know that we wish we had more, but at least whatever we have, I’m trying to make sure we can get it.”

“And I fight about expanding the bureaucracy because I do believe that rather than put up with what you guys have had to put up with the last eight or ten years with No Child Left Behind is gone, where they just kept dumping more and more responsibilities with absolutely no additional resources, that I would like to see providing more resources and asking you to do things like equal access to educational opportunities,” Ige added.

Ashley Olson, a Spanish and French teacher at Lahainaluna High, asked the governor about the teacher evaluation system teachers love to hate, EES.

“How much ability do you have to influence that?” Olson asked Ige.

“I don’t have any legal ability to influence that. But I am influencing that because I care about it,” Ige answered. “Stay tuned for that. I don’t really want to speak out of turn, but we’re working to improve that issue with the evaluations.”

Ige said before he became governor, when he chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee, he talked to Department of Education officials at a meeting about creation of the new evaluation system and said, “Don’t do the bureaucratic thing and screw up this evaluation.”

“I said, ‘I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to assign it to an EO (executive officer) in the state office who probably hasn’t been in the classroom in decades. And this person is going to go, and with no constraints or parameters, they’re going to go find the best evaluation system in the world,’” Ige said.

“And then they’re going to say it’s going to cost a hundred bazillion dollars and the Legislature is going to appropriate ten bucks,” Ige said. “I said ‘Pay attention. Don’t screw this up.’”

“The new evaluation system, by my count—and you guys live it so you know – required 15 times more resources to implement,” Ige said. “If you’re going to ask me for all that money, I would tell you, hell, I would rather spend that money in other ways, because I don’t think we have a problem with teachers. Because it comes back to how are you spending your money and what are your priorities? I didn’t think teacher quality was a big problem.”

Under HSTA’s new contract, tenured, effective or better teachers will be streamlined (IPDP only) over the next two school years. Student learner outcomes (SLOs) will be discontinued for tenured, effective teachers. The DOE is continuing the current EES system for non-tenured, less-than-effective and teachers with no rating. A joint committee will work with the new superintendent to “improve and develop a high quality teacher evaluation system” to begin in the 2019-2020 school year.

Jodi Kunimitsu, a math teacher at Maui High, asked the governor, “What are the chances of us having Board of Ed meetings that are accessible to teachers. Because right now, there are a lot of teachers who give up their time to go to the board to testify, but it’s really taxing, especially for neighbor islands. You have to fly and then you have to give a substitution plan. Is there a possibility that we’d have more opportunities in evenings, afternoons, or on other islands besides Oahu?”

“I’ve been after the Board to do just that,” Ige answered. “And trying to get them to come out more and engage.”

“And it’s funny right, because the Department of Education budget is $1.8 billion and the response the department tells the board is, ‘You guys don’t have the money, so you can’t do it.’ So they don’t want to schedule evening meetings because they don’t want to pay overtime or whatever. And they can only travel so many times to the neighbor islands. So I’m working with them to try to get them the funds,” Ige said.

Mahalo to HSTA Maui President Alan Isbell for organizing the Maui talk story session with the governor.