Monday, April 25, 2005

Teachers union
lauds pact

The HSTA and Lingle express
satisfaction with the tentative
two-year contract

Members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association say they are confident that a tentative contract agreement reached with the state will help retain and recruit teachers.

Gov. Linda Lingle held a news conference at the state Capitol yesterday to report that both the state and the teachers union were satisfied with terms of a two-year contract agreement reached Friday night.

Officials from the state Department of Education, Board of Education and the teachers union also attended the news conference.

Both Lingle and union officials declined to give details of the agreement until union members review it and state officials present the total cost of salary increases to legislators today.

"The fact that we've agreed to something tentative is a statement that we believe it's something that we can afford, we can accommodate within our budget and within our financial plan," Lingle said.

Teachers union President Roger Takabayashi said the negotiating team's primary objective was higher salaries. Though he declined to give details of the agreement, he said the state gave a better offer than its proposal in March of a 1.5 percent pay increase in each of the next two years. At that time the union had asked for pay increases averaging 15 percent per year.

Entry-level pay for teachers is currently $36,500 per year, while teachers at the top of the scale earn $66,000 per year.

"I think the members will be quite pleased with this agreement. It addresses their concerns. It will also help us alleviate the teacher shortage that we have," Takabayashi said.

Currently, there are about 200 vacancies in the school system across the state, Takabayashi said. According to an HSTA survey, the school system will lose 6,000 teachers in the next five years to retirement and for various other reasons, he added.

In the last five years, the state lost about 7,100 teachers.

"The basic trend is we lose about 1,500 a year -- about 400 to retirement and the other 1,100 who just leave for whatever reason. And quite often, compensation is the primary reason for teachers leaving," Takabayashi said.

"We do not have teachers lining up at our doors to come into the profession. We do need an attractive salary compensation package to attract highly qualified (teachers) that our kids deserve," he added.

He said the agreement also dealt with compensation for extra time teachers spend in classrooms. On average, teachers spend about three more hours of their own time per school day, Takabayashi said.

Union members will vote on the contract Thursday. If ratified, it will be in effect from July 1 to June 30, 2007.

"It's a really good settlement we got," said Lilian Yamasaki, a social studies teacher at McKinley High School and member of the negotiating team. "We feel that we have met our goals with fighting for the three C's: compensation, conditions of work and climate/culture."

R.J. Rodriguez, a teacher at Mililani Waena Elementary School and member of the negotiating team, was happy with the results.

"I think the teachers will overwhelmingly appreciate this package, and I think it solves a lot of compensation issues," he said.

Rodriguez said he believes the agreement will help recruit teachers and retain teachers with top-scale salaries.

"They're our mentors. They're the ones that taught us about the profession. I wouldn't be here it if weren't for those teachers at my school at that level," he added.

HSTA represents 13,000 teachers.

The state also reached a tentative two-year contract agreement with the United Public Workers union about 6 p.m. Saturday.

Details were not given. Lingle said the agreement has yet to be shared with the union, which represents 9,000 members.

The agreement covers custodians, sanitation workers, prison guards, public hospital workers, food service employees and other workers for the counties and state, Hawaii Health Systems Corp. and University of Hawaii.

The tentative agreement comes more than a week after the Hawaii Government Employees Association reached an arbitrated agreement with the state for a 5 percent salary increase for its members in each of the next two years.

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