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Maui teachers say pay not enough with the cost of living

Housing an issue, some work two jobs

Lahainaluna High School social studies teacher Mike Landes grades papers while attending a meeting about teacher compensation Wednesday afternoon at the Baldwin High School Auditorium in Wailuku. Landes said he needed to use his time wisely as to live on Maui; he also has a second job. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

WAILUKU ”øΩ Lahainaluna High social studies teacher Mike Landes graded papers while listening to testimony at a meeting Wednesday afternoon that sought feedback about Hawaii teacher compensation.

He apologized to those in attendance at the Baldwin High School Auditorium for doing his school work, but said he needed to use his time wisely to spend time with his children while holding a second job.

“It’s only been a series (of) second jobs (that) we can continue to live here,” he said of himself and his wife, also a teacher.

Currently, Landes maintains a website for a small nonprofit, but his other jobs have included retail sales, waiting tables and cleaning condominiums.

Landes, who is the Hawaii State Teachers Association Maui Chapter president, said his college classmates make six-figure salaries. Some may argue that Landes only works 10 months of the year, but he said he does not even make a 10th of what his classmates earn in their full-year jobs.

Teacher pay in Hawaii ranges from $49,000 for starting licensed teachers to about $89,000 a year for those with the most seniority, according to the HSTA, the teachers’ union that represents 13,700 public and charter school educators in Hawaii.

A survey done by personal finance website WalletHub said Monday that Hawaii teachers have the lowest annual salaries in the country when factoring in cost of living.

In a news release about the meetings, state schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said that “it is critical that our compensation system supports our ability to attract and retain the highest level of talent. Our community’s feedback is an important part of ensuring that any necessary refinements are done right.”

Echoing comments from teachers who spoke at the meeting, Landes said teachers need to be paid more and respected.

Landes spoke at the earlier of two listening sessions on Maui put on by the state Department of Education on Wednesday afternoon and evening. Similar sessions are being held across the state.

The meetings were to hear feedback not only from teachers but from community members and public school students and staff on teacher compensation.

The sessions and subsequent analysis were being conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, a third-party consultant, hired to ensure objectivity, the DOE said.

A summary of the results is expected to be shared with the state Board of Education, HSTA and legislators.

Teachers are currently in the middle of a four-year contract.The next round of contract talks between the HSTA and the state is expected to begin July 31. The current contract with teachers is up June 30, 2020.

The last across-the-board raise for teachers was 3.5 percent in fall 2018. Teachers will receive a step increase of 3 percent on the first day of the second quarter in mid-October, the HSTA said. After that, the next across-the-board increase of 3.5 percent will be paid in fall 2020.

A handful of teachers who moved from the Mainland to Maui say they took pay cuts of thousands of dollars annually to live here, and are having a hard time finding adequate affordable housing.

Reene Maglente Hatakeyama, who is originally from Wailuku and taught in Washington state, took an $18,000 pay cut to come back to Maui, where she wanted to raise her three children, ages 11, 8 and 7.

She and her husband only can afford a two-bedroom apartment; they cannot afford a three-bedroom rental and cannot afford to buy a home.

Hatakeyama had 13 years of teaching under her belt in Washington, but only got credit for six years when moving here. She has a younger niece, who began teaching after her, but their pay difference is only $4,000 annually.

“She lives at home. I get three kids,” said Hatakeyama, who is a curriculum coordinator at Wailuku Elementary School.

Solutions she offered included offering teachers a cost of living allowance. She called for better treatment of teachers, as well, “so we can feel good about what we do, (so) we can inspire the next generation to inspire excellence.”

Besides teacher pay, educators complained about the length of time it takes to move up steps on the payment ladder and the cost Neighbor Island teachers incur to earn professional development credits on Oahu that can help increase their pay.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee attended the Maui meeting and told members that the union had fought hard and will continue fighting hard to increase teacher pay and improve other conditions.

Those unable to attend the meetings may fill out an online survey through Oct. 6. To take the survey, go to bit.ly/2mg VFx7.

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