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Friday, November 10, 2000

DOE scales back
on ‘divisive’ recruiting

A Pennsylvania firm was
hired to find special ed teachers,
but the benefits they get
top the local ones

By Ian Lind

The Department of Education is scaling back a controversial contract with a Pennsylvania company originally aimed at recruiting and relocating hundreds of special-education teachers from the mainland to work in Hawaii schools.

The contract with Columbus Educational Services of King of Prussia, Pa., initially called for the company to bring 332 full-time special-education teachers and 41 counselors to the islands during the next year, and then to provide support and assistance for as many as five additional years.

A letter of intent between the DOE and Columbus was signed Aug. 15, and the contract was signed Sept. 1. Under the contract, new teachers will be employees of Columbus and not the state, although they will work alongside regular DOE teachers.

But Paula Yoshioka, assistant superintendent of education, said the state is in the process of paring Columbus' quota to just 133 teachers, a reduction of almost two-thirds.

When the contract was prepared in late August, the DOE lacked detailed information showing where teachers were needed, and Columbus was directed to recruit for openings statewide, Yoshioka said.

A subsequent school-by-school analysis led to the decision to have Columbus focus on filling positions on the neighbor islands, she said.

The DOE will continue its own recruiting campaign here as well as in several mainland cities to fill positions on Oahu.

"We're not happy about having to go to the mainland to recruit, but we don't have a choice," Yoshioka said. "We have not been able to recruit enough special-education teachers locally.

"There's a real national shortage."

The Columbus contract has drawn criticism from teachers because it provides financial incentives to mainland teachers not previously offered by the DOE, including higher pay and richer benefits.

"It's going to be divisive," said Joan Husted, deputy executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the union representing public schoolteachers. "They are going to bring people in from outside and pay them a very substantial sum of money to work side by side with people who are underpaid."

"It is not a good situation," Husted said, "but it is by order of the court, so we're very limited in our ability to deal with it."

The contract is one of several exempted from state procurement requirements as a result of a court order by U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra aimed at speeding state compliance with the so-called Felix consent decree and correcting long-standing deficiencies in special education services.

Columbus is currently advertising for teachers holding special-education licenses or credentials in other states, as well as teachers credentialed in other subjects who have taught special education for three years.

Husted said Columbus is offering starting salaries from $35,000 "upward to the $40,000 range," depending on education and experience, but the real differences are in the accompanying benefit package.

Included in the Columbus offer:

Bullet $1,000 monthly housing allowance.
Bullet $300 monthly automobile allowance.
Bullet $1,500 "technology allowance" to purchase a computer.
Bullet $4,000 for continuing education.
Bullet Up to $10,000 in moving expenses.
Bullet A travel allowance to return to the mainland once a year.
Bullet Matching contributions to a 401(k) plan.
Bullet Fully paid medical plan, as well as life insurance.

Husted said HSTA is encouraging Hawaii teachers to welcome Columbus employees.

"Don't take it out on them, it's not their fault," Husted said. "But it's a bad situation."

Columbus President Richard W. Ronder, reached by phone at the company's offices in Pennsylvania, said he had been directed by DOE officials not to comment on the contract, and he declined to even provide background about the company.

In its proposal to the DOE, Columbus describes itself as "the nation's largest provider of on-site professional staffing and consultative services focused exclusively on agencies serving children and adults with disabilities."

Yoshioka said Hawaii officials were directed to Columbus by Ivor Groves, the court-appointed monitor of the Felix consent decree.

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