Friday, June 8, 2001

Teacher bonuses
in limbo

The HSTA and DOE disagree
over who should qualify

Pay ads erred

By Christine Donnelly

The Department of Education is trying to renege on an agreement to pay bonuses to teachers with master's degrees, and the dispute may be headed for court, the Hawaii State Teachers Association claims.

"The road to implementing the recently negotiated contract has been much rockier than ever anticipated," reads the June 4 Teacher Advocate newsletter published by the teachers union. "Unfortunately, the Department of Education is attempting to reinterpret what was negotiated, and we remain in dispute over a few issues."

The newsletter said the DOE was "balking" at the cost of paying a 3 percent salary bonus to teachers who have master's degrees or professional diplomas, and sought to reduce the number of people eligible by limiting the degrees and educational institutions accepted. Plus, the DOE wants to pay the bonus once, rather than in both years of the contract, it said.

DOE Personnel Director Sandra McFarlane refused to discuss the dispute, saying it remained a private collective-bargaining matter between the state and the union.

"I think it's premature yet for us to comment," she said yesterday. "We're in the process of discussing it with the chief negotiator."

In an interview, HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted said the DOE demanded the master's degrees be in education or teaching, not science or arts, even if such a degree related to the teacher's work.

For example, an art teacher who had a master's in fine arts would not get the bonus under the DOE's interpretation, she said.

In addition, the DOE wants to recognize "professional diplomas" only from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and not from other educational institutions, Husted said. (Professional diplomas are granted for an organized program of advanced classes in education and teaching.)

The DOE's current interpretation is contrary to language agreed to by both the HSTA and the state for ratification by teachers to end a strike that closed schools for three weeks this spring, Husted said.

The language ratified by teachers read, "Teachers who hold professional certificates based on a master's degree or a Professional Diploma shall receive a 3 percent differential calculated on their current salary each year."

The HSTA newsletter said the union would do everything possible, "including legal action," to resolve the matter. "We'll go to court if we have to," Husted said. "We bargained this fair and square, and the DOE needs to live up to its end of the deal."

The DOE's strategy seemed "primarily to save money," she said. By the HSTA's count, 57 percent of the union's 12,800 members, or roughly 7,300 people, deserve the bonus, at a total cost of about $20 million, said spokeswoman Danielle Lum.

By contrast, the DOE intends to spend $11.4 million on the bonuses, according to its latest budget figures, and must find the money within its existing budget.

DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen said it would come from surplus federal impact aid, which the federal government pays the state to help cover the cost of educating the children of military families and other federal employees.

Although state government approved $111.7 million in "new dollars" to fund the overall teacher raises, that figure did not include money to pay for the "professional track" bonuses, said Kim Murakawa, spokeswoman for Gov. Ben Cayetano.

It was agreed that money would come from within the DOE's existing budget, she said.

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