Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion on Free Travel from Private Tour Companies for Educational Trips

State Ethics Commission votes: No free teacher trips
Members opt not to delay issuing advisory opinion on educational trips

By Catherine Cruz

UPDATED 6:29 PM HST Aug 19, 2015

HONOLULU —Amy Perruso feels like public school teachers are under attack.

“This is will have a chilling effect not just on my students and their development but students from across the state,” said Perruso.

As a classroom teacher whose students travel every year for competitions abroad, Perruso is just one of many who worries about what happens now that the State Ethics Commission voted to issue an advisory opinion clarifying whether free teacher travel violates the ethics code.

The DOE says there are some 20 schools that could be immediately affected by this decision.

At Kaimuki Middle School, the principal and a number of teachers decided to pull out of a San Francisco trip just this Monday. It was one of two trips planned for this year.

Language arts teacher Kamilla Maii worries about the 25 students who are to travel to Italy this spring.

She says her travel is normally paid for by the travel company, but she doesn’t want to violate any state laws.

“I don’t want to cancel. I have seven families who have paid in full. I have 18 families who have been making payments since February. I am not ready to push the panic button or to call things off as of yet,” said Kamilla Maii.

Director Les Kondo said the commission will not take action on any past travel but teachers will still have to file financial disclosures.

And going forward, teachers will have to follow the state ethics code about accepting free gifts from private companies.

“I think the DOE knows that the commission has spoken, but now we are on board that no one can ask is this you, or this is the commission because there will be a document with five people’s name on it,” said Kondo.

The teachers union said it plans to put up a fight either in court or at the state Legislature to get things changed.

“The teachers are not going to go. They can’t afford to. We are already among the worst paid in the nation.

They don’t have this extra money. It is sad that we say to teachers not only do we not pay you for this extra time you are putting in not only do we say we don’t value your volunteering, now we are saying you have to pay for it on top of everything else,” said Cory Rosenlee, president of the public school teachers union.

School Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi had asked the commission to delay a decision on travel for this year to minimize disruptions.

In a statement the DOE said:

“Unfortunately, the Commission did not take action on the superintendent’s request. The Department must comply with the Commissions directive.”

The commission said the code prohibits teachers from accepting free travel and gifts from tour companies.

It has offered to assist the DOE in reviewing its policies and procedures, including possible ways to fund teachers travel for upcoming education trips.

To learn more about this story, click on the following:

DOE Cover Memo, HSEC Memo
Advisory Opinion No. 2015-1

HSTA may take legal action against new educational travel rule

By Alex Cerball

Published: August 19, 2015, 8:20 pm

It’s one of the first “casualties” of a newly enforced rule for Hawaii’s public schools.

This week the Kaimuki Middle School band canceled its spring study tour to San Francisco because school employees are no longer allowed to go on the trip if someone else is picking up the tab.

KHON2 wanted to find out what’s being done to keep more of these trips from being canceled.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE) told KHON2 it supports educational travel, and it does not expect teachers to pay when they are chaperoning students.

The DOE says they don’t have enough money to pay for teacher or chaperone travel.

So right now, they are working with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to see what fundraising ideas are acceptable.

Teacher Kamilla Maii has been taking her Kaimuki Middle School students on educational trips for years. She has been to China, Japan, London and Paris, and this spring break, she plans to take 25 students and chaperones to Italy for nine days.

“I don’t think its reasonable to ask a hard working teacher, to pay to go to work on their vacation time,” Maii said.

The Ethics Commission determined that teachers who are involved in planning the trip and selecting the tour company cannot accept free travel and other benefits from the tour company.

KHON2 asked the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association about the policy. He said it needs to change, and that could mean going to court.

“This decision is wrong and its going to hurt kids,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “Right now the two options is one is to take this to court, and the other one is to change the law.”

The trip to Italy will cost students $3,200.

Unless teachers pay for the trips on their own Maii and her students can’t go.

Rosenlee also told KHON2 that students are not allowed to fundraise to help pay for the teacher’s trip.

In the past, a travel company would cover basic travel fees for the teacher, but now that’s not allowed.

“Usually the costs that are taken care of, with a program or travel package are just flights and accommodations, they don’t include any meals that we eat or anything like that,” said teacher Amy Perruso.

Last year Kaimuki Middle School band students performed at Carnegie Hall, this year they planned to go to San Francisco, but plans have changed.

Maii says she doesn’t plan on cancelling the Italy study trip, seven parents have already paid in full.