Tuesday, September 4, 2001

At Chaminade University yesterday, schools
Superintendent Paul LeMahieu, U.S. Rep. Patsy
Mink and UH President Evan Dobelle were among
the community leaders calling for initiatives to combat
the shortage of public school teachers.

Isle shortage
of teachers spurs
call for recruits

Community leaders gather to
address the state's 400 vacancies

By Pat Gee

U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink urged more Hawaii residents to become public school teachers to fill more than 400 vacancies in the state system.

At what she called a "crisis (press) conference" yesterday morning, Mink gathered education and other leaders, including schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle, to spotlight the teaching shortage.

LeMahieu said it is unusual for the number of teacher vacancies to be this high at the start of the school year; "it is, in fact, a crisis."

He even offered his own office number, 586-3310, for applicants to call about a teaching job.

LeMahieu promised to expedite teacher recruitment with tuition and salary incentives, help with relocation expenses and award a $10,000 bonus (over three years) for special-education teachers and other "hard-to-fill areas."

Overall, the neighbor islands and the rural parts of Leeward Oahu have the most dire need for teachers, said Mink, a Democrat who represents rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.

She said she found "classes are packed" at an average ratio of 32 students to one teacher during a recent visit to Leeward schools.

Mink said Congress is financing incentives for teachers and is offering forgiveness of student loans.

Joan Husted, chief negotiator of the Hawaii State Teachers Association union, did not attend the press conference at Chaminade University but applauded any public effort to boost recruitment.

However, she said she wished the speakers would have "called for an end to the contract disputes, which have a chilling effect on the recruitment of teachers."

Contract negotiations with the state are ongoing as the two sides try to settle differences in the deal that ended last spring's three-week teachers strike.

Husted said about 200 teachers were scheduled to retire by Dec. 31 before the contract dispute, but since negotiations began a month ago, almost 400 have indicated they would be leaving, which is "very bad news for Hawaii" on top of the current shortage.

"The DOE (Department of Education) has to get very aggressive in recruiting teachers" and urge "local kids to come home and teach," Husted said.

LeMahieu said the DOE is not requiring that people who have a bachelor's degree also have a license to teach. Instead, they will be given two years to obtain the license. Applicants who qualify only need "come to us, and they will be hired and placed in very short order," he said.

Dobelle said 90 percent of university students come from the public schools, and it is "in our own self-interest" that UH support the recruitment of qualified teachers to fill the vacancies for the betterment of the students.

Randy Hitz, dean of the College of Education at UH-Manoa, said the university has allocated $750,000 to start teacher programs on the neighbor islands.

"We can recruit from the mainland, but the chances of them staying are very small," he said.

After three years, one in five teachers from the mainland will remain while four out of five residents will stay on the job, he said.

"We really need to grow our own in Hawaii," Hitz added.

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