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Teacher shortage worsening; HSTA advocates for higher pay

Board of Ed and superintendent say they are ready to address the problem

New figures released by the Department of Education show Hawaii's teacher shortage is getting worse. But after HSTA advocated for paying educators better, Board of Education members and the schools superintendent discussed aggressive options to improve teacher pay and keep more qualified teachers in Hawaii during a BOE meeting Thursday.

HSTA’s efforts to raise awareness about the teacher shortage during the campaign for the constitutional amendment paid off. On Thursday, the chair of the BOE’s Human Resources Committee even quoted from an HSTA campaign commercial and said it’s “concerning” that tens of thousands of students are taught every day by unlicensed teachers.

Teacher retention drops, more teachers leaving islands

The latest position report released by the DOE reveals these troubling trends:

>> The number of teachers leaving Hawaii has gone up 71 percent in the last five years.

>> 5-year teacher retention dropped again in 2018-19. Just 51 percent of teachers hired in the 2013-2014 school year were still in Hawaii classrooms five years later, down from 54 percent the previous year.

>> Vacancies are still a big problem, with 1,000 teacher positions unfilled. The number of special education vacancies rose to 352 this year from 311 last year. 

>> The number of teachers who aren’t qualified (and have not gone through teacher training) continues to increase. That number rose to 508 this school year, from 473 the year before.

Click on the video below to watch HSTA President Corey Rosenlee's BOE presentation.

Click here to see the DOE’s latest position teacher position report.  

'We're not competitive, and this is why we're losing teachers'

In a presentation to the BOE’s Human Resources Committee, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said,  “Our starting teachers are about $5,400 behind our comparable districts, our mid-career teachers are about $18,000 to $30,000 behind and our most experienced teachers at the top of the scale are $12,000 to $18,000 behind.”

Click here to see Rosenlee's written testimony to the BOE about teacher shortages.

“At the end of the day, we’re just not competitive, and this is why we’re losing our teachers,” Rosenlee added. “The number one reason why teachers are separating from the DOE is because they are leaving Hawaii. And we’ve seen since 2012-2013, that number has increased by 71 percent.”

The close to 400 vacant special education teaching positions this school year amount to “a time bomb waiting for a lawsuit to occur. Because we know that we cannot provide services to our students unless we have enough special education teachers,” Rosenlee said.

“This shortage is not equal across the state,” Rosenlee said, because it’s worse in rural districts and along the Waianae Coast, meaning that “some of our students go year after year without getting the services that need under SPED.”

Tremendous compression; Superintendent wants to fix the problem

Rosenlee also testified about tremendous compression of mid-career teachers who have not moved enough on the the salary schedule, noting that most mainland school districts offer automatic raises for teachers based on years served, while Hawaii does not. In response, board members discussed the need to move ahead to assure steps accurately reflect teachers’ years of service.

Thursday, BOE members had a robust discussion about teachers’ low pay and HSTA is pleased to report that for the first time in a long time, the board and the superintendent appear ready to address the issue.

Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said, “This is both a recruitment and retention issue. On the recruitment side, our pipeline is absolutely leaking.”

“When you look at our policy agenda, it’s not bold enough to show that we support our teachers,” she added.

Kishimoto said, “Nationally, we see the compression at the mid-career level, and so many districts have looked at five to 15 (year) range or seven to 15 (year) or later ranges and looked at actually escalating compensation for teachers who remain and having that rate of growth on a step schedule escalate for those years. So that rewards your mid-career teachers.”

“Those are all things we need to talk about and come to a resolution as quickly as possible with all the parties, as well as what that funding ask is going to be of the state Legislature, but to me, that’s one part, that’s that short term, versus some of the other considerations for long term,” Kishimoto told the meeting.

Board of Member says 'We gotta increase the pay'

Brian De Lima, who chairs the BOE’s Human Resources Committee, said, “If the problem is as serious as we believe it to be, then it really speaks to the need to address the compensation package,” De Lima said.

De Lima also referred to an HSTA commercial that ran during the constitutional amendment campaign this fall. He pointed to HSTA’s analysis of how many students are taught by unqualified teachers, noting 1,000 teacher vacancies is about eight percent of the teacher workforce.

“Even if you take the minimum class size, 30,000 students are being taught at one point or another by a non-licensed teacher,” De Lima said. “When you look at it from that point of view, I think we all can agree that it’s concerning, whether it be one or two teachers from a particular school.”

The DOE is conducting a salary study, but it won’t be completed for about seven months. The study will factor in Hawaii’s high cost of living and health benefits.

“We gotta increase the pay,” said BOE member Nolan Kawano, saying that the DOE needs to make improvements in retaining teachers for five years. This school year, the DOE’s five-year teacher retention rate fell to 51 percent, a three percent decrease from last year.

“It’s a reflection of the fact that this is the situation that you have, which is low teacher pay. That they come to realize in that third, fourth, fifth year, ‘Thanks for the induction and mentoring, but I gotta pay my bills.’ And so the long and short of it is we gotta increase the teacher pay,” Kawano said.

The state needs to come up with a package for the legislature for the 2019 session, not two years down the road when HSTA’s contract expires, De Lima said.

Higher pay, improved workload for SPED teachers?

He suggested paying special education teachers one third more, with a commitment to stay for several years.

Board member Maggie Cox, a retired DOE principal who was a teacher before that also talked about the need to reduce the workload of special ed teachers. 

The state has a lot of dual-certified teachers who have left special education because of the high stress levels in the field, so maybe the state should consider having SPED teachers teach fewer classes, Cox said. 

“A lot of them have left SPED, because of the work load. We have to look at the whole situation for SPED if we’re ever going to get it better,” Cox added.

De Lima, a Hawaii Island lawyer and vice chair of the BOE, said, “It’s important that we don’t minimize the vacancy problem."

“Unless you can say … the principal is hiring a highly qualified substitute that’s teaching a course that doesn’t require academic rigor. Unless you can articulate with data to suggest that, I think we should stay away from trying to minimize the problem,” De Lima added.

Thursday night, Hawaii News Now adopted HSTA’s characterization of the problem using a banner graphic that said “Teacher Shortage Crisis” in a story given prominent placement in its 6 p.m. newscast and reported by anchor Mahealani Richardson. The story featured an interview with Campbell High special education teacher Anthony McCurdy.

The HSTA will continue to update its members on progress toward improving teacher salaries and retention.

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Author: Keoki Kerr
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