Another Side of the Story


DOE shortchanges
substitute teachers

Last Nov. 29, 10 substitute teachers working for the Department of Education and living in all four of Hawaii's counties filed suit (Chang vs. Hawaii) against the DOE demanding back pay from the state as required by law. The DOE has been ignoring a clear and unambiguous provision of the Hawaii Revised Statutes that spells out the pay rates for substitute teachers. We also are seeking representation through Local 368 of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

Hawaii's 5,200 substitute teachers are on-call, casual employees of the DOE. We work only when a regular teacher is absent. We are paid a per diem rate -- a fixed amount for each day we work. For the first semester of the current school year, we were underpaid by $25.72 per day. For the second semester, we are being underpaid by $26.54 per day. A sub who works 100 of 181 school days -- slightly more than half the year -- will be underpaid by just over $2,600.

HRS No. 302A-624(e) provides that "effective July 1, 1996, the per diem rate for substitute teachers shall be based on the annual entry step salary rate established for a Class II teacher on the most current teachers' salary schedule." The per diem rate is based on a formula using the annual salary divided by 12 monthsdivided by the average number of working days per month.

For six years the DOE simply ignored this provision of state law and paid subs under its old schedule, which resulted in an even greater underpayment than we are now enduring. On May 8, 2002, Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto announced "a change in per diem rates for substitute teachers" that resulted in retroactive pay for the 2001-2002 school year.

But instead of applying this formula to the entry salary rate for a Class II teacher, the DOE applied it to the entry level step salary rate for a Class II instructor. The "instructor" category, which carries a lower rate of pay than the "teacher" category, did not exist in 1996. Chang vs. Hawaii simply seeks to have the education department obey the law.

In addition to being underpaid for six years, substitute teachers receive no benefits, except for those few who are given a contract to cover an absence of more than 30 days. But the DOE often will hire a sub for 29 days and then make him or her miss a day before returning to work, just to avoid paying benefits.

Here's what subs miss out on that regular teachers enjoy under their union contract:

>> Substitute teachers are not eligible for any insurance coverage through their employment. No health insurance, no life insurance, no dental or eye care insurance. Effective July 3, 2003, subs will have the same right to receive health insurance benefits as other state and county employees. However, the trustees who administer this law, led by employer-appointed trustees, have been trying, through administrative rule-making, to deny subs this opportunity. Local 368 has been picketing meetings of the trustees.

>> Substitute teachers have no retirement benefits.

>> Substitute teachers have no job protection. If the principal or vice principal decides a particular sub is not welcome, that's that. There is no right of appeal or review.

>> Subs have no paid leave and no paid holidays.

>> Subs are not eligible to receive merit pay raises, or longevity raises.

>> Subs are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation when they are laid off during scheduled breaks -- summer break, spring break and Christmas break. Regular teachers are paid over the course of a fiscal year (July 1 to June 30), and their salary continues during these breaks.

In June 2002, the DOE in a newsletter sent to all subs said, "Our new superintendent, Patricia Hamamoto, is leading the charge to hold high expectations for our students and to address the challenges we must meet. ... Professional behavior and good judgment are expected of substitute teachers. ...

"You are an integral part of the DOE team. Commit to your business of providing your very best efforts as you substitute teach each day."

The DOE is right to expect a high degree of dedication and professionalism from its substitute teachers. It should respond by paying us the per diem called for by state law and negotiating appropriate benefits.

David Hudson lives in Hilo. A substitute teacher since 1990, he is a plaintiff in Chang vs. Hawaii.

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