Kawananakoa School eighth-grade counselor Peggy Brandt took notes yesterday as she studied the proposed 10-month salary schedule during a teachers vote at the school. Teachers across the state have ratified a new two-year contract.

Teachers OK raise
but say it is only
part of problem

Public-school teachers overwhelmingly approved a new two-year contract yesterday that raises salaries nearly 10 percent.

Earning Curve

The new state teachers contract contains the third pay increase since a statewide teachers strike in 2001.

April 5, 2001: Teachers begin 20-day strike that shuts down public schools, eventually winning raises of about 18 percent over two years.
June 2003: Contract is extended another year.
May 2004: Teachers get raises averaging 7 percent in a new one-year deal.
Yesterday: Teachers ratify contract with average 9.56 percent raise.

But they said teacher retention problems will persist unless more funding trickles down into Hawaii classrooms.

"I support this but there's one thing I know: It's not just about our salary. There are a lot of other things that need to be addressed," said Jason Okamoto, a teacher at Lanakila Elementary School.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association said 92 percent of teachers voting across the state chose to ratify a contract that lifts salaries by an average 9.56 percent by the 2006-07 school year.

It also restores a popular previous health plan and provides an avenue for addressing the mounting workload teachers face in an era of heightened school accountability.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents more than 13,000 public school teachers, had been warning during months-long negotiations that unless salaries were raised significantly the state could face serious problems with teacher retention and recruitment.

But the raises will not address the problem as long as overall state funding remains such that teachers are forced to use their own money for basic classroom supplies, said Eric Arasato, a special-education teacher at Farrington High School.

Arasato cast a "dissenting vote" against ratification.

"It's not really going to help with retention. There's still a huge gap in funding for education, and it's the kids that suffer the most," he said.

However, teachers lauded the union for negotiating the biggest pay increase since the 18 percent raise that followed a three-week strike in 2001.

The contract will lift starting teachers salaries to $39,901 from the current $36,581 by the 2006-07 school year. The highest-paid teachers will get a raise to $73,197 from $66,790. Average salaries will rise to $53,000 from $47,000, union officials said.

The new contract also spells out a framework for contributions to an alternative health plan expected to result in lower costs for its members.

Puuhale School teachers Colleen Skrimstad, left, Christina Kim and Clyde Sabas considered terms of their proposed pay raise yesterday during voting at Kawananakoa School.

The Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Association Trust would be similar to a health plan used by teachers up until 2001, when the Legislature forced teachers into a single health plan set up for all public employees.

Teachers complain that the move saddled them with higher costs.

"The premiums really went up, but the benefits were about the same. VEBA was better," said Jane Onishi, a teacher at Kalihi Waena Elementary.

Legislators are now weighing a bill that would allow the establishment of a VEBA trust on a three-year temporary basis while the state does a cost-benefit analysis of the trust's impact on state finances. The bill is expected to pass.

HSTA President Roger Takabayashi said plan participants could save several hundred dollars a year in premiums and medication costs.

"Costs of drugs, in particular, have tripled for some people," he said.

During negotiations the union also had pushed for contract language addressing the increasing demands that cut into teachers' core teaching time. These include a range of additional paperwork requirements stemming from the federal No Child Left Behind law and court orders related to special-education students.

The contract creates a committee of teachers, DOE officials, Board of Education members and union officials to monitor the mounting workload.

"There's so much more stress now," said Onishi, who teaches English as a second language. She works extra hours these days to meet the No Child Left Behind Act's requirement that her students meet the same test-performance standards as native English speakers.

"It's so unrealistic but that's the law. It's tough on teachers," she said.

Last month, the union said a member survey found that about 6,000 of its 13,000 members did not plan to be working in the state public school system within five years. Low pay and working conditions were cited as key factors.

Takabayashi called the contract "a good start" and said the union remains committed to a goal of raising starting teacher salaries to $45,000, average salaries to $60,000 and top-scale pay to $100,000 a year.

Hawaii State Teachers' Association
State Department of Education

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