IN THE NEWS: Ethics Commission process concerning

Rule would ban outside pay for teachers

The ethics proposal targets stipends from private companies during the school year

By Sophie Cocke

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2015

Hawaii public school teachers will no longer be able to accept extra pay during the school year directly from private companies or institutions for work related to their jobs if a recommendation by staff of the state Ethics Commission is approved by its five-member board.

The proposed prohibition, which would apply only to the 10-month school year, is inflaming tensions between the Ethics Commission and Hawaii State Teachers Association in an ongoing conflict about the powers of the commission.
Former Hawaii congresswoman and attorney Colleen Hanabusa, who represents the HSTA, says the Ethics Commission’s executive director, Les Kondo, is overstepping his authority.

Staff, who briefed the commission on their stipend recommendation during a Thursday meeting in downtown Honolulu, maintain that the extra compensation violates conflict of interest and gift laws contained in the state ethics code.

The staff provided only general descriptions of the types of financial arrangements that teachers have been engaging in. They said teachers have been paid stipends to learn new curriculum, conduct surveys and collect data. In one case, teachers were paid for enrolling students in Advanced Placement courses and compensated extra if students earned high scores.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said the department doesn’t have a record of how many teachers receive scholarships or stipends from outside organizations.

The commission, which on Thursday deferred a vote on the measure until staff could collect more information, is expected to make a decision on the matter at its next meeting, scheduled for early December.

“Our issue, our concern is really the structure of how this money is getting to the teacher,” Kondo said. “It’s not so much that the teacher is getting additional money; it’s (that the money is) coming from a private source.”
Staff argued that stipends from private companies could be viewed as teachers acquiring an inappropriate financial interest in a business.

Kondo said it’s fine if the compensation instead goes to the DOE, which then allocates it to the teachers.
He said the stipend rules would apply to teachers only during the school year because they hold 10-month contracts. During summer months they could receive outside pay for job-related work.

Two of the five commissioners, David O’Neal and Ruth Tschumy, raised concerns about the staff proposal.
O’Neal said it didn’t make sense to allow the teachers to accept outside stipends during the summer months but not on the weekends throughout the year.

Tschumy, a retired educator and former chairwoman of the Hawaii Charter School Review Panel, said she was concerned that the prohibition could stifle teachers from engaging in important educational research programs administered by universities or other academic institutions.

“We don’t know about unintended consequences,” Tschumy said. “That is what worries me.”

The stipend proposal marks the third time this year that the Ethics Commission has scrutinized the activities of public school teachers. In February, Kondo said that teachers shouldn’t be allowed to accept free airline tickets or other perks from travel companies when they organize and chaperone school trips for students.

In March, Kondo said teachers who are candidates for union offices should not be distributing campaign material in school mailboxes.

The ethics opinions, which could trigger commission investigations of teachers who violate the guidance, have angered the HSTA and elicited criticism from schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
This latest action is spurring a new round of criticism.

There is concern that if the Ethics Commission “decides to prohibit stipends it will result in fewer teachers pursuing opportunities to advance their profession outside of paid time,” Mata•yoshi said in a statement. “This would be a disservice to them and to the students they are teaching.”

Hanabusa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Kondo is inappropriately interfering in issues covered by collective bargaining agreements between the DOE and teachers.

Further, she contends that Kondo is violating due process in issuing ethics guidance without opening the process up to the public by way of a formal rule-making process.

“Whenever an agency is going to act in a quasi-judicial manner, they need to have rules,” she said. “The failure to implement rules is really a major concern with the Ethics Commission.”

Hanabusa is awaiting a commission decision on an a “petition for declaratory order,” in which she argues that the commission violated due process by not implementing a rule-making process when it issued guidelines to teachers on travel restrictions. A decision could have far-reaching implications for the powers of the commission.

“If I were to guess, I would guess that they probably won’t agree,” said Hanabusa of the commission. “Then I have appeal rights to the courts to see if the court will agree with me.”