Ted Waitt, one of HSTA’s early presidents and numbers expert, dies

The Hawaii State Teachers Association lost an outstanding teacher leader when Ted Waitt, HSTA’s fourth president, died on the Big Island Feb. 11. He was 87 years old. Almost every teacher in the Department of Education can thank Ted for the work he did on their behalf.

Ted died from a rare aggressive form of skin cancer at an assisted living facility in Kona, said his daughter, Sancie De Mattos of Waikoloa.

“He was still doing his union work” at the assisted living facility that he moved into earlier this year, De Mattos said. “He was always advocating for the employees. He wrote to the general manager on behalf of an employee who felt he wasn’t being treated fairly.”

“He loved to talk and tell stories,” she recalled. “He loved HSTA and still talked about it often. He loved being a teacher.”

Ted was on the first negotiations team in 1971 and became the first HSTA president re-elected to his first term. In 1973, Ted was elected by the HSTA Convention, but his election was challenged by HSTA Vice President Charles Campbell and overturned by the First Circuit Court. At the next HSTA convention, Ted was again elected as HSTA president and served with distinction.

Serving as both a team member and a consultant, Ted worked in some capacity with every bargaining team except one. His expertise in costing the collective bargaining proposals of both the HSTA and the employer was so accurate that the employer often used HSTA’s cost estimates until an agreement was reached.

“Ted was my secret weapon. He was remarkable,” said Irene Igawa, who spent 17 years as HSTA’s negotiations specialist, retiring in 2007. “Ted would come up with so much accurate data going through the state budget. He was just a master at that. We came out ahead every time,” Igawa recalled.

The stories about Ted are legendary. In 1972, newspapers reported that the Baltimore Board of Education bugged the faculty lounges of the union’s negotiations team members’ schools. So when Hawaii teacher negotiations were held in the governor’s conference room, Ted checked for bugs. He found a wire with a microphone looking tip and he blew on to get feedback. Soon the security guard came in and asked if the team was getting cold and when he was told yes, he went over to the shelf and tapped the wire. The wire Ted found with what looked like a microphone on the end turned out to be the air conditioner sensor.

Another time, Ted offered to stay overnight for the other team members who were protesting the state’s rescinding a team member’s release time. The team decided that they would stay at the bargaining table in a state Budget and Finance Department conference room until the state restored the release time. The next morning, Ted told the team that he almost was arrested because he wrapped himself in a $60,000 tapestry wall hanging to stay warm.

Ted specialized in manipulating figures to get the biggest bang for the buck. Using a self-designed computer program, he could shave fractions of a percent from steps and distribute the money across the schedule to raise teachers’ base pay. He was a master of honoring the bargaining teams’ first commandment that everyone on the schedule gets a pay raise. He equalized the percentages between steps which at one time ranged from 1 to 5 percent without any teacher losing money. Even the state told him it couldn’t be done.

Joan Husted, HSTA’s retired executive director and chief negotiator, said, “There are so many things Ted did to support teachers whether as president, negotiation team member and researcher, the likes of which will not be seen again. He will be sorely missed.”

As president of HSTA, Ted was instrumental in forming a coalition with other Hawaii unions.

Ted had a variety of experiences in the classroom, from teaching at Solomon Elementary on Oahu to teaching English at Honokaa High on Hawaii Island. A top notch golfer, he was president of the Hamakua Country Club in Honokaa for many years. He also coached golf and girls’ softball at Honokaa High.

Igawa said he was also a great dancer, proficient at ballroom, salsa and disco, among other styles.

“He was a wonderful story teller. He would have us in stitches,” Igawa remembered. “He was a one-of-a-kind guy.”

Services are pending. Ted is survived by seven children, more than 20 grandchildren and more than 40 great grandchildren.