Teachers glad contract struggle is behind them

KAHULUI – Maui teachers were pleased to finally have a tentative labor contract in hand, and most said Wednesday afternoon that they voted in favor of the proposal even though they still had concerns about teacher evaluations and medical coverage.

“I feel this is the best we are going to get. I just want a contract,” said Marsia Honda, a 2nd-grade teacher at Kihei Elementary School after she cast her vote in favor of the contract at Maui Waena Intermediate in Kahului on Wednesday afternoon.

The six-year teacher who previously taught at Kalama Intermediate said she was happy the contract would restore a previous 5 percent pay cut the teachers had taken. The contract includes pay raises over the course of the four-year agreement.

“At least we are getting back something,” Honda said of the pay restoration, noting that she didn’t want to be greedy.

But Honda had some reservations about how the teacher evaluations would be conducted.

Nathanial Mickelson, an advance placement chemistry teacher at Maui High School, also voted in favor of the contract.

“I have a family to support,” he said at Maui Waena after voting. “I take what I can get at this point.”

Honda and Mickelson were two of Maui County’s Hawaii State Teachers Association members who turned out to vote on the tentative contract reached by the union and the state in late March. The teachers’ last contract expired in June 2011. Teachers voted down a contract offer in January 2012, then tried to pressure the state into accepting it by later voting on it again and passing it. The sides sought the help of a federal mediator in March.

In addition to the Maui Waena site, teachers around Maui County voted at Kalama Intermediate and at Lahainaluna, Lanai and Molokai high schools, according to the HSTA.

Thirty-six-year teaching veteran Ann Heron was concerned about the evaluation provision and raise process and said the evaluation process could involve student evaluations, which may be a sticky point.

For example, she said many outside influences could involve a student’s evaluation of a teacher, such as what if a student just broke up with his or her partner? Or what if the student doesn’t attend class and therefore cannot give an accurate account of a teacher’s performance?

“How is that going to go?” asked the Maui High School teacher who wore her red HSTA shirt to the vote. “Our raises are based on an evaluation process that there is not a clear-cut” explanation.

Heron, who voted against the contract, said she was concerned about medical coverage. Under the new contract, teachers will pay 40 percent for their medical coverage versus the 50 percent they currently pay. She said she was told the medical plan would be a “basic” one.

The cancer survivor said she would probably need supplemental medical coverage if she had a major illness.

Melodie Ulman, a first-year teacher in Hawaii, said the contract was not the prettiest, but it was a contract, finally.

The Kihei Elementary Kindergarten teacher said she voted in favor of the contract, noting that in at least this proposal teachers are able to give “feedback” into their evaluation processes versus other proposals that didn’t ask teachers for their input.

Maui High School science teacher David Rostetter voted in favor of the contract. He said he compared this contract with others in the nation and said that it wasn’t going well for teachers across the nation and thought this Hawaii contract was better than others.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.