Teachers testify before BOE as board leader thanks HSTA for its efforts to boost schools

Teachers made emotional pleas for more public school funding before the Board of Education March 7 and asked the state for more engagement in the negotiations process, prompting one top BOE member to say he appreciates HSTA’s efforts to improve public education in Hawaii.

Katie Hillstead , a Waianae Elementary teacher, told BOE members, “I’m a first-year teacher with a lot of student loan debt, and I’m coming into a profession that I cannot afford to stay in. I work a second job to continue to teach. My roommate sells facial cream at Bloomingdales and he makes more money than I do.”

Hillstead, one of 14 teachers to testify before the board Tuesday night, said teacher turnover is a huge problem on the leeward coast.

“It affects students’ learning.  As teachers leave, students are left with long-term, unqualified subs,” Hillstead said. “In the area of special education, so much so on the West side that our most vulnerable students are being taught by the least qualified people.”

Aiea High School Testing Coordinator Pauahi Kazunaga said,“One of my duties as induction and mentoring co lead is to support the new teachers. I am working with ten new teachers. Of those ten new teachers, eight of them have not completed a teacher education program. What impact does that have on our students there? The students at Aiea deserve a teacher in the classroom who is prepared and ready.”

Several teachers testified about the difficulties special education teachers face, including Lynne Tanaka, a Farrington High SPED teacher.

“Please fund special education so we can have smaller class sizes. When I first started 20 years ago in that department, we had 27 teachers. Today, we have about 14. So the class sizes have gotten a lot larger and my class sizes range from 15 to 17.  And these are certificated students so they’re not going for diploma track,” Tanaka said.

Shawn Kamida, a teacher at McKinley High, lamented the lack of funds for students to travel to the mainland for national competitions.

“How can you tell these students who win their state competition, ‘No, you cannot go, because you cannot pay for it,’” Kamida said. “That was a prime example this past year when the Kalani parliamentary team, there were six of them, and because they could not get the funding, the six students could not go up and compete at the national level. Most of our students do not get an opportunity to travel, have never been on the mainland, or an airplane. This is a great opportunity for them, especially for students who want to apply for college and live on the mainland. This gives them the opportunity to do that.”

Logan Okita, a first grade teacher at Nimitz Elementary, worried about the message the state is sending to students when there is no money for the basics.

“When they come to school and see that we don’t have technology, even though our curriculum asks for it, that they can’t even play on a playground, what are we telling them? We’re not telling them very much about how much we value them. It tells them that teachers aren’t valued either,” Okita said.

Osa Tui, McKinley High’s registrar and HSTA negotiations chair, raised concerns about the state’s bargaining proposals pertaining to its unpopular and ineffective teacher evaluation system.

“When Governor Ige was running for office, he stated unequivocally, ‘I will work with the board to immediately place a hold on the components of the Educator Effectiveness System that educators have identified to be part of poor design and implementation, until we are able to re-assess and come up with a more responsible solution that builds morale, capacity and professionalism.’ As you may or may not know, the teacher evaluation proposal that you passed across the negotiations table to us is even more draconian than what currently exists and will destroy rather than build morale, capacity and professionalism,” Tui told board members.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said, “We’ve been negotiating now for six months, and in our 40 proposals we’ve received minimal engagement back. So the one thing we’re asking for is this: if we want to improve our schools, we’ve got to have a two-way conversation. If you don’t like our ideas, what are your ideas? But let’s start bargaining in this process so we can find a way to give our keiki the schools they deserve. Thank you.”

Immediately following their testimony, BOE Vice Chair Brian De Lima told teachers he appreciated that “HSTA has been leading the effort to lobby our legislators for the funds that are necessary for public education.”

“I do want to say to all the HSTA members here tonight, we appreciate all your hard efforts in trying to get the Legislature to prioritize funding for our public schools. Without your efforts, I think the ability to emphasize this problem would be … less top-of-mind with legislators,” De Lima said.

“We will continue to work with you. It’s a hard job to solve these difficult problems that have been around for decades,” De Lima added. “We hear you, we’re trying to best and I think if we continue to work together, we will be able to achieve a positive result.”