photo unavailable
Gathering Place
Roger Heath

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Pay cut was last straw
to career as sub teacher

On March 18, I notified the faculty and staff of Kealakehe Intermediate School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, that I am no longer available to substitute teach. I have been trying for the past seven years to elevate work conditions for substitute teachers. In 1998 the Department of Education denied unemployment benefits to substitute teachers. I appealed and won my case in Third Circuit Court, only to have the decision later overruled when the DOE took the case higher, appealing to the Hawaii Supreme Court. For the past 2 1/2 years I have been active in trying to establish Bargaining Unit 14 for substitute teachers. Twice bills have passed out of legislative committees, but they were either vetoed by the governor or deferred by the legislative leadership. We have been unable to get "permission" from the state to represent ourselves even though Act 89 specifically states:

"Employees shall have the right of self-organization and the right to form, join or assist any employee organization for the purpose of bargaining collectively through representatives of their own choosing on questions of wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment ..."

Apparently the politicians of Hawaii write laws without requiring the departmental administrators to follow these same written laws. Again this spring elected public representatives have disallowed state employees to exercise their legal rights.

Two years ago a class action lawsuit was filed by substitute teachers asking for back pay. The legislated pay formula has not been calculated correctly by the DOE since 1996. If substitutes win, and the DOE appeals the case up to the Supreme Court, it could take another five years for substitutes to recover their back pay. My shortage is more than $20,000.

Since 1996 substitute pay has been tied to entry-level Class II credentialed teacher pay. Last October Hawaii State Teachers Association negotiator Joan Husted and the DOE signed a memorandum of understanding "relabeling" instructors and emergency hires as "teachers," thus Class I Instructors became Teacher Class II. This memorandum apparently ignores the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which define a teacher as one who has completed teacher training and is licensed to teach by Hawaii State Licensing Board. The memorandum had no effect on HSTA members (classroom teachers), and only four days later the attorney general's representative went into court and testified that the new definition was "consistent" with the old, and substitute teachers had been overpaid. A few days later the DOE announced pay cuts for all substitute teachers effective Nov. 1, 2004, later changed to Jan. 25, 2005. It apologized for the cut, but no mention was made of the teacher "relabeling" to justify the new pay rate. I find this behavior by both the DOE and HSTA representatives reprehensible.

Substitutes are insulted by the DOE. The classification of "casual, day-to-day employee" denies substitutes a living wage, health-care benefits, a retirement fund, earned sick days, paid professional training classes and other benefits expected by citizens working full-time or close to full-time jobs. Many substitutes work every single school day of the year, but that makes no difference in their pay, nor do they earn any benefits. The state has laws severely penalizing any private companies that conduct such illegal labor practices.

I appreciate the trust teachers offered throughout my experience as a substitute teacher. For the past 10 years, I have learned much about kids and Hawaiian culture. I hope I've had a positive influence on the almost 5,000 Kona students I've taught. To be recognized on the street and in stores, and be able to respond to a "Hello" from past students, is an added bonus. It is regrettable that for financial reasons, caused by DOE policy, I can no longer continue as a substitute.

Roger Heath lives in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He distributed a version of this letter to his fellow teachers at Kealakehe Intermediate School during his last few days of employment.

E-mail to Editorial Page Editor


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com