Substitute teachers’ pay raises pondered
Meg Gammon jokes she gets "the scraps" when it comes to getting paid by the state Department of Education.
A 16-year substitute teacher, she earns $136 for a day in the classroom but depends on her job at Longs Drugs for health benefits. Gammon also works as a parent community networking coordinator at Kalaheo High.
"We get the scraps, the leftovers," the 58-year-old said of her teaching income. "Because we are not part of the union, we just have to wait for the crumbs to be thrown to us."
Gammon is among about 4,700 public school substitute teachers whose pay raises would be comparable to salary increases given full-time teachers in future contracts under a bill awaiting Gov. Linda Lingle's signature.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2652 in the wake of three lawsuits filed by substitute and part-time teachers who claim the Education Department has underpaid them by millions of dollars in recent years.
It would require wages of substitute teachers to be adjusted to pay hikes awarded to regular teachers in negotiations between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state, said House Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto, who introduced the bill.
The state Budget and Finance Department is assessing the "fiscal implications" of the measure before making a recommendation to Lingle, who has until July 8 to act on it, said her spokesman, Russell Pang.
In December 2005, Circuit Judge Karen Ahn ruled that the Education Department failed to comply with a 1996 law requiring it to pay substitutes the same daily rate as full-time employees with four years of college, known as Class II teachers.
The lawsuit contends salaries for substitutes rose about 11 percent from 1996 to early 2005, while the pay for Class II teachers climbed more than 40 percent during the period. The state's attorneys are appealing the decision, having argued the 1996 law is unclear and that the department is paying substitutes the right amount.
Depending on experience, substitute teachers earn between $125 and $147 -- rates that were last set by the Legislature and took effect July 1, 2006. On average, about 1,000 substitutes work at public schools each day.
Paul Alston, an attorney representing isle substitute teachers seeking more than $25 million in back pay, said the bill "still shortchanges" his clients by not entitling them to retroactive raises. He estimated substitutes should be making between $171 and $181 a day.
"It does nothing to redress the historic underpayment," he said. "They are simply continuing to cheat the substitutes."
A similar lawsuit filed by part-time teachers is on hold pending the outcome of the state's appeal, Alston said.
In a separate court case, substitute teachers say they deserve 4 percent raises awarded to teachers in each of the two years of a contract ratified last May. They are appealing a decision by Circuit Judge Victoria Marks, who determined in October that the Education Department was not required to give substitute teachers the same salary increases, Alston said.
Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) said the bill, supported by both the Education Department and the teachers union, was not meant to help settle the legal disputes, but to ensure substitutes are earning fair wages "going forward."
Steven Kent, who began filling in for absent teachers 14 years ago, said he earned $105 a day for "many years" before the pay went up to $147 recently.
"If I was depending on this job for my income, it would be a stretch," said Kent, 41, who relies on income from properties he manages.