Substitute teachers
decry low pay

Substitute teachers are increasingly unwilling to work in Hawaii's public schools, according to figures cited yesterday by an attorney for substitutes who are suing the state for millions in back pay.

State of Hawaii Attorney Paul Alston said data obtained from the Department of Education as part of the lawsuits showed that 3,240 substitute teachers had worked in Hawaii's public schools in the first semester of the 2004-05 school year.

That would represent a 23.8 percent decline from the 4,251 teachers who had worked during the entire 2001-02 school year, Alston said.

"The situation is getting bleak," said substitute teacher Roland Lee. He said his colleagues are fed up with the low pay they receive compared with full-time teachers.

"The DOE is really gambling and hoping for the best, but if they keep treating us like we're expendable, people are going to say, 'Enough,'" Lee said.

Department officials said they could not confirm Alston's figures, but noted that schools call in substitute teachers when they are needed. They said the number of substitute teachers on the department's rolls -- whether they worked a particular year or not -- has actually grown to 4,568 currently from 4,514 in 2001-02.

Substitute teachers must indicate each spring their intention to teach the following school year.

"The department strongly values the contributions and dedicated commitment of our substitutes to providing a quality education for our children in the classroom and in our schools," said Gerald Okamoto, the state's assistant superintendent for human resources.

The class-action lawsuits seek about $20 million in back pay for substitutes, based on a 1996 state statute linking their pay to that of a particular class of full-time teachers.

Despite that law, substitutes' pay has not kept pace. Full-fledged teachers have seen a series of pay increases in recent years, but the state actually cut substitute-teacher pay in January to $112.53 a day from $119.80. Alston said substitute pay should be $153 under a new teacher contract reached this week.

The plaintiffs released the numbers in hopes of influencing legislators putting the final touches on the current session.

"It's time for the DOE and legislators to walk the walk and to start showing these teachers the respect they deserve," Alston said.

Judge Karen Ahn put the suits on hold in hopes of a legislative solution, but one has not materialized. A series of public-employee pay raises -- including a 10 percent raise for full-time teachers in the new contract -- leaves little extra room in the state budget.

Substitute teacher Daniel DeCarlo said he worked every day as a substitute last year but earned only $21,980.

Though he said he loves the work, he is increasingly turning down assignments.

"I'm cutting back a bit. I just don't believe the DOE anymore. I feel some integrity has been lost on their part," he said.

State Department of Education

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