[ TEACHER STRIKE ] DEIDRA FREITAS breezed into the principal's office at Farrington High School today with a cheerful "good morning" and a wave of her arm. "I'm so used to waving," she laughed.
students return to classes
tomorrow after a
Teachers are back at work today
after 85% of them approve a new
contract last night
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>> After strike, Legislature eyes the future
By Rod Antone
Freitas, who teaches pregnant and parenting teens, was among faculty members "glad to be back" in school this morning after picketing. She said she was "feeling very guilty" because two of her students had babies during the public school teachers' strike.
The mood generally was upbeat as teachers returned to their schools today after overwhelmingly ratifying a new four-year contract, officially ending a 19-day strike affecting more than 180,000 students. The vote was 9,208, or 85 percent, for the contract, and 1,551 or 14 percent against.
"This is very good package for teachers and public education," said Karen Ginoza, President of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
"With its ratification we are not only able to open schools once again, but also start down the long road of rebuilding and renewing Hawaii's public school system," Ginoza said.
Some teachers, feel, however, that the system is broken and can't be mended.
Asking not to be identified, they said they're disappointed that their boss, Paul G. LeMahieu, didn't support them when he knows their poor working conditions. They also blame Gov. Ben Cayetano for not settling sooner. "Goodbye Democrats," said one.
Some teachers were back on the streets in front of schools this morning thanking the public for support.
Yesterday afternoon, Waipahu High School teacher Dennis Hansen was still picketing even after the HSTA and the state announced a tentative agreement and about 13,000 of his peers were voting on the new contract. But instead of a sign that said "ON STRIKE" this one said "JUST SAY NO."
"I'm telling them to vote no, because I think it was kind of a sellout," said Hansen. "I hope people realize that it's not a done deal. It's not done until these people, 13,000 of us who are HSTA, said that it's done."
For other HSTA members who packed into the University of Hawaii's Stan Sheriff Center, the choice to vote yes or reject the contract and go back to picketing was not that easy.
"I personally cannot afford to stay out any longer, because my wife's a teacher too, yeah, so I would have to vote yes," said Kapunahala Elementary School teacher Reid Hasegawa. "I think we can do better but I think it's as good as it's going to get."
Myron Monte, acting principal at Farrington, met today with his department chairs and faculty to adjust the curriculum to meet the needs of the block schedule.
Farrington is the only high school in Hawaii using that schedule, which provides for eight credits per year, four per semester. No sports or other extracurricular activities that interfere with classroom instruction will be resumed, he said. The only activities planned will be the senior prom and graduation exercises.
"The (loss of ) money was difficult," said special education teacher Jim Kozlowski. "I'm just glad it's over; I'm glad to be back with all my friends.' The teachers got a two-year deal that includes 10 percent across-the-board increases.
It starts with a 2 percent pay raise in September, followed by another 2 percent increase next February. An additional 3 percent increase is seen in September 2002 followed by another 3 percent increase in February 2003.
Teachers will also move up in the salary scale during the two-year contract based on level of education and years of service. These "step" increases amount to about 6 percent.
Moanalua Middle School math teacher David Arakaki said depending on teachers' qualifications, that could mean varying pay increases between 17 percent and 21 percent.
"For me, 17 percent you know is almost halfway in-between the 22 and 14, you know, so I think it was fair," said Arakaki.
When the strike began April 5, the union was asking for a 22 percent increase while the state was offering 14 percent.
The step increases do not apply to those at the top of the pay scale, at Step 14a. That includes 30-year veteran Daffny Sato, who said she still voted yes, mostly so that the younger teachers could take advantage of the money the step increases provide.
"The proposal the governor had put in before did not allow for that," said Sato. "They would have made a lot less than I did, and I didn't think it was very fair, so I had to do this, even if it meant some kind of sacrifice."
The state says the new contract raises the starting salary of a teacher with a bachelor's degree to $34,294 from $29,204 over two years.
Teachers will also get $1,100 worth of "retention incentives," $550 for those employed during the 1999 to 2000 school year and another $550 for those employed during the 2000 to 2001 school year. A far cry, said some, from the original push for retroactive pay from last school year.
"I'd just as soon get 19 percent across the board and just give up the retro and he can keep his $550, you know," said Roosevelt High School teacher Ramone Cordero of Gov. Ben Cayetano. "I think a lot of teachers weren't happy about that."
"The first two years we were left to believe, go retro, go retro," said Hansen. "Now they're offering us $550 the first year. For me that's 1.27 percent, that's chump change."
Hansen's sign-holding eventually caught the eye of Waianae High School teacher Mary-Esther Correa, who was proud to say she voted yes.
"This is a good contract. Did you read it all? It's good, it's great," said Correa.
"I read where the first two years are a measly $550 for one and $550 for the other," said Hansen.
"They didn't want to give us any retroactive pay. Something is better than nothing, look at it that way," Correa said.
Eventually Correa walked away and said philosophically, "You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all of the time. We worked very hard, we been out there a day shy of three weeks."
But in light of the education and money lost, some still wonder if it was worth it.
"I don't know," said Arakaki, "I just don't know."
Star-Bulletin reporter Helen Altonn contributed to this report.
>> HSTA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site
>> UHPA Web site