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Tuesday, March 15, 2005
HSTA says big
The Department of Education declined to reveal details of its position in talks on a new two-year contract, but the Hawaii State Teachers Association said the state has offered 1.5 percent more pay per year.
The two sides are working with a federal mediator and expressed confidence that any gap can be closed in time for the current legislative session to fund any new deal.
"Neither party is saying, 'Take it or leave it,'" said Joan Husted, HSTA executive director. "These are our starting positions, and somewhere along the line we'll reach a settlement."
The union's current contract, which expires June 30, had won teachers raises ranging from 4 to 11 percent.
But Husted said a more substantial pay increase is critically needed now to lure good teachers to high-cost Hawaii.
Hawaii teachers make a starting salary of about $36,500 a year, while those at top scale make just more than $66,000. The average is around $44,000, roughly in line with the national average.
But Hawaii salaries rank near the bottom in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
In recent months the HSTA, which represents 13,000 teachers, has been calling publicly for starting teacher salaries to be lifted to $45,000 per year and average salaries to $60,000.
But it is not clear whether its current proposal would accomplish that. Husted called the union's new offer "complex," and said those averages had not been calculated yet.
But she said the union had shelved its previous call for the most experienced and qualified teachers to be paid $100,000, which she said would have cost the state "hundreds of millions" of dollars.
"We've put on the table an offer that we felt was possible for the state to fund," she said.
The union's current offer would cost the state about $19 million in "new money" a year, she said.
The two sides have been in mediation since Feb. 21.
Assistant Schools Superintendent Gerald Okamoto declined comment on the substance of the talks but said, "I fully anticipate we will reach an agreement."
Seeking to bolster its position, the HSTA said yesterday that half of Hawaii's public school teachers expect to leave their jobs within five years due to low pay, citing the results of a member survey.
The association did not release the full survey results, but said 49 percent of the 608 members surveyed in January expected to leave.
Of those not planning to retire, respondents said they foresaw teaching at a private school or on the mainland, or leaving teaching entirely.
HSTA officials said the salary problem has worsened as home prices and rents have spiked upward.
"(It) shouldn't be about the money, but the reality is that we have families we need to support, too," said Karen Mahiko, a teacher at Kalihi Kai Elementary School, who has four children. "(Leaving) has definitely crossed my mind."
The union also wants a new contract to contain language protecting teachers from the mounting work demands caused by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and Hawaii's own school-reform Act 51, which allows schools more self-government. Teachers face a growing burden from associated test preparation, data collection and other tasks, the HSTA says.