Thursday, May 17, 2001

Hawaii’s teachers
could see big boost
in ranking among
national salaries

Salary increases could
prove more alluring to
mainland teachers

By Crystal Kua

Hawaii could see its future ranking in national teacher salary surveys rise to No. 14 as a result of a new contract which settled a statewide teachers strike last month, a Hawaii teachers union official says.

"Assuming no one else in the country gets a pay raise, it may hold (rise to No. 14)," Hawaii State Teachers Association Executive Director Joan Husted said. "There are lots of unknowns."

But today's release of the American Federation of Teachers national survey, based on salaries from the 1999-2000 school year, puts Hawaii at No. 18 with a $41,292 average salary.

Overall, public school teacher salaries across the country have risen slightly in the past several years but have failed to keep up with inflation, according to union surveys.

The American Federation of Teachers said the average teacher salary in the 1999-2000 school year was $41,820, up 3.2 percent from the previous year but just short of the 3.4 inflation rate. The union said the rise in salary was among the smallest in 40 years.

"The teacher shortage plaguing school districts nationwide will not abate unless salaries improve," AFT President Sandra Feldman said. "Better wages aren't the only way to retain and recruit teachers, but they sure make a difference."

The National Education Association's survey released this week found that, adjusting for inflation, teacher salaries in half of the states dropped in the last decade. Husted said Hawaii ranked 20th in average teacher salary in the study by the NEA, the parent union of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Hawaii's average salary ranking remains unchanged from last year's American Federation of Teachers survey. Also unchanged is the state's last-place ranking when salaries were adjusted for the cost of living.

Husted said the cost-of-living ranking, which the union relied upon before and during the April 5 strike to argue for higher wages in light of a teacher shortage here and on the mainland, could move Hawaii to 46 from 51.

But the HSTA's projections on the rankings depend on many unknown factors, Husted said, including whether large numbers of experienced teachers -- who are at the high end of the salary scale -- will retire.

Hundreds of teachers could potentially leave during the next two years of the contract. That would likely bring more lower-paid teachers into the picture, which would affect the average salary, Husted said. "In that case, your average hasn't dramatically increased."

But with new professional development credits, the restoration of incremental movements and other components in the new contract, early indications are that teachers are talking about staying through the end of the contract, Husted said.

Increments would also help teachers stay on top of inflation, which could also attract more teachers from the mainland, teachers who are reluctant to come because of the cost of living, Husted said. "The restoration of increments is very important to making Hawaii's (salary) schedule competitive."

The HSTA salary schedule under the new contract kicks in next school year with all teachers receiving across-the-board raises of 4 percent and most teachers a step-movement salary hike of about 3 percent.

The salary after next year for an entry-level teacher, for example, would rise to $31,340 from $29,204, and a senior teacher's pay would climb to $60,517 from $58,167.

The following year, teachers will receive across-the-board raises of 6 percent, and all but the senior teachers will receive another 3 percent step movement. Beginning teacher salary would then rise again to $34,294 and senior teachers to $64,202.

"I think we're going to do very well (in the rankings) with beginning salaries," Husted said. "We are now giving them a reason to come to Hawaii. The question is going to be, How do we keep them?"

AFT said the average salary increase for new teachers was actually lower in 1999 than in 1998. New teachers last year earned, on average, $27,989, up 4.2 percent from the previous year. In 1998 their salaries jumped 4.4 percent, AFT said.

New teachers' salaries also lost ground to starting wages in other white-collar professions, the NEA said.

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