Hawaii teachers vote to ratify new contract, pay raise

98 percent of those who voted approved of the 4-year pact

WAILUKU — Teachers statewide ratified a new contract Thursday that would give them a 13.6 percent pay raise over the next four years. Of the nearly 8,000 Hawaii State Teachers Association members who cast ballots Thursday, 98 percent voted in favor of the contract.

Kahului School 5th-grade teacher Joyce Kawahara was all smiles as she walked away from the polling station at the J. Walter Cameron Center.

“We fought for it, and if you can give teachers exactly what they should have in support, that’s what it’s all about,” said Kawahara, a 40-year teaching veteran. “We teach not because of the money. We teach because of the students.”

The state and the teachers’ union tentatively agreed on the deal Saturday after nine months of negotiations. The HSTA’s Board of Directors voted to accept the agreement and to put it to a vote of HSTA’s 13,500 members.

Relieved to have some solution, Maui teachers generally said they supported the new contract.

“Under the circumstances, it’s absolutely the best we could do,” said Alan Isbell, HSTA Maui chapter president and Wailuku Elementary educator. “We have Governor Ige to thank for helping us get to where we’re at.”

The agreement extends teacher contracts from July 1 to June 30, 2021. Public school teachers will see a 3 percent pay hike known as a step increase in the first year and an across-the-board, 3.5 percent pay raise the second year. The last two years will include another step increase and another across-the-board raise.

The average salary for a full-time public school teacher in Hawaii is about $57,000, according to HSTA. A 13.6 percent raise would bring that up to $64,752.

The state also has agreed to provide more money for teachers’ health premiums. Under the last contract, the state paid around 58 percent of the most expensive plans, Isbell said. That’s set to increase, though how much more depends on the health plan that each teacher selects.

Compared to the 2013-17 contract, “it’s apples and oranges,” he added. “This is a much better contract, not only for the salaries, but we’ve managed to get some other things in.”

While the state Department of Education didn’t include some issues that HSTA would have liked, “on other things we managed to gain some ground,” Isbell said. “It wasn’t all just a matter of money.”

The agreement also touches on teacher evaluations, which some educators said Thursday requires loads of data and paperwork that take away from lesson preparation time. Under the new deal, tenured members will go through “a streamlined evaluation process” while the union and state work to improve the system, HSTA said.

The agreement also allows HSTA to renegotiate health plan contributions and teachers’ professional development hours in the last two years of the contract.

However, some teachers said they were disappointed that another education-related measure didn’t pass the state Legislature. A constitutional amendment proposed by HSTA would have taxed high-end investment properties and visitor accommodations, such as hotels, to generate funding for schools.

“I think it’s shameful that it did not make it out of conference committee,” said Lisa Morrison, a teacher and student activities coordinator at Maui Waena Intermediate. “It hits very close to home because we have Maui representatives who were involved in making sure the constitutional amendment wasn’t sent to the public for a vote. I hope next year they reconsider it.”

Isbell also thought it was “very disappointing because it had gotten all the way to conference,” and some thought it might pass.

“It didn’t make it, and there was no really sound reason for it,” Isbell said. “All we were asking is that voters be given the chance to approve or reject it.”

However, Wailuku Elementary teacher Bo Kim-Bautista said she wasn’t sure about the proposal. On the Mainland, district money stays with district schools. But Hawaii’s education system encompasses four counties under one department.

“It’s prevalent on the Mainland, but because we have one district, it’s a really tricky question,” she said. “How do you make it fair? Right now, I think it’s a sticky topic for almost everybody.”

To Kim-Bautista, one of the most pressing issues in schools is that of class size. Some teachers are seeing increasingly large classrooms of students, and it’s stressful for both teachers and students.

“No matter what grade level, I think smaller classrooms would be something we desire,” Kim-Bautista said.

Issues for other teachers included the growing number of tasks required beyond teaching, such as standardized testing and teacher evaluations. Some said there just wasn’t enough time in the day to tackle it all. Others thought teachers deserved higher salaries but still supported the contract and were hopeful for more school funds in the future.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” Wailuku Elementary teacher Erin Brennan said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.