In the News:  Contract Reopener


Teachers set to haggle with state for increase in pay, perks

The completion of a study comparing isle instructors’ salaries with those in other districts permits more talks
By Nanea Kalani

The union for Hawaii public school teachers is heading back to the bargaining table with the state to negotiate for increased compensation, exercising a so-called reopener clause in teachers’ 2013-2017 labor contract.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association said in an email to members late Friday afternoon it has confirmed bargaining dates for March “to discuss additional salary and compensation” for the remaining two years of the contract.

“As valuable professionals who provide quality education for our students, teachers deserve proper support and compensation so that we may continue to attract and retain a high quality education workforce for the state,“HSTA President Wil Okabe said in the email.

The four-year contract, which had an initial $330 million price tag,restored a 5 percent pay cut made in 2009, followed by annual salary boosts of at least 3 percent through a combination of across-the-board increases and pay grade step-ups in alternating years.

A certified, licensed teacher earns a starting salary of just under $44,000.

HSTA, which represents 13,500 teachers, secured the reopener clause for the union to negotiate for increased pay and benefits once a salary study called for in the contract is completed.

The study, which is supposed to be submitted to legislators next week, was paid for jointly by the union and the state Department of Education, and conducted by Denver-based APA Consulting.

“HSTA and the state made a commitment to hang tight for four years … but when you make that level of commitment, there’s also the idea, let’s make sure we don’t lock ourselves out,” said Joan Lewis, the HSTA’s vice president and a teacher at Kapo­­lei High School who was part of the negotiating team. “At the time we were doing our original negotiations, there were a lot of unknowns.”

She said the salary study makes clear what other national studies have shown: Hawaii’s public school teachers are among the lowest-paid teachers in the country — a designation that worsens when the isles’ cost of living is factored in.

A recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked Hawaii No. 124 out of 125 school districts for earnings over a 30-year teaching career, when adjusted for cost of living. The report said Hawaii’s $43,759 starting salary, when adjusted for the cost of living, amounts to $25,879.

“Our state is going to have to decide how important it is to have a strong veteran teaching staff,”?Lewis said. “Too often our Hawaii public schools are a residency program for teachers. We’re giving them experience to go elsewhere. We’re sending very well-trained teachers elsewhere because we can’t retain them.”

She said the reopener clause allows the union to negotiate for salary and benefits, but wouldn’t disclose what those added benefits might be.

“On behalf of the teachers, we believe it’s very clear adjustments need to be made to our compensation,”?Lewis said. “The data tell us very clearly we’re going to be at risk of not holding on to great teachers if we don’t make strategic changes.”