BOE OKs pay increase for teachers in hard-to-fill positions

The state Board of Education on Thursday approved a proposal to address Hawaii’s continuing teacher shortage by increasing pay for classroom teachers in areas that have faced the most severe staff shortages.

The plan — proposed Tuesday during a news conference with Gov. David Ige, state Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee, and others — calls for special education teachers to receive a pay differential of $10,000 annually, Hawaiian language immersion teachers to receive an additional $8,000, and those teaching in geographically hard-to-staff schools to receive $3,000 to $8,000.

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According to the HSTA, hard-to-staff differentials of $3,000 were negotiated in 2007 for qualified and licensed teachers in those locations.

Under the new plan, teachers in the Keaau and Pahoa complexes would continue to earn a $3,000 differential, those in the Kealakehe, Kohala and Konawaena complexes would earn an additional $5,000, and teachers in the Honokaa and Ka‘u complexes would earn $7,500, the HSTA said.

“I’m very happy the board approved our differential pay and I think we’re moving forward because all teachers need to be compensated more for the job we do,” said Momi Vincent, a special education teacher at Kaumana Elementary School in Hilo. “ … Our job never ends at 2:30. We’re there after school. We’re there on weekends.”

When there’s a shortage of qualified special education teachers, Vincent said it impacts the education of special needs students.

“When you have to work with a teacher that’s not certified, you’re teaching that teacher what to do in that position,” she said. “The first people you need to think of are the students.”

It takes time away from students, and those who aren’t certified can’t write an IEP, or individualized education program, nor conduct IEP meetings, Vincent said.

Sometimes, Vincent said, she doesn’t get to do her planning until she’s home or on weekends.

The last IEP she wrote “was at midnight because I didn’t have time.”

Retaining teachers who are certified in special education would mean less demand on the whole system, said Vincent.

Approval of the proposal came during a meeting Thursday morning, after substantial testimony largely in support of the measure and much discussion amongst board members.

The board took action on two separate motions, the first to approve the pay differential for Hawaiian language immersion teachers and the second to approve the pay differential for the remaining two categories of teachers.

The former passed unanimously while the latter passed 7-2, with board members Dwight Takeno and Nolan Kawano voting “no.”

“We need to recognize this is part of an overall plan to compensate teachers in a way that we can have highly effective teachers in each and every classroom … ,” Vice Chairman Brian De Lima said during the meeting.

The DOE will send a request to Ige to include the necessary funding in his executive budget request to the Legislature.

According to the DOE, the pay differentials are set to take effect Jan. 7.

Implementation of this initiative is timed around recruitment deadlines for the 2020-21 school year along with ongoing retention efforts.

“I am thrilled with our collective decision to move forward boldly to address a long-standing challenge,” Kishimoto said in a news release. “We have tremendous teachers in the department who deserve to receive competitive pay, acknowledgment and support. We are the promise to our haumana.”

According to the DOE, there are 1,691 eligible special education teachers, and the department estimates the special education pay differential would cost $8.45 million in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The hard-to-staff differential is estimated to cost an additional $6 million in fiscal year 2020, based on 2,109 teachers in all tiers of hard-to-staff areas, and the Hawaiian immersion differential is expected to cost approximately $216,000 in FY 2020, based on 54 teachers who are currently eligible.

A DOE spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that under the proposal approved by the board, charter school teachers are not eligible for the differential pay.

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“There would need to be further conversation about this should the department receive additional funding from the Legislature,” the spokeswoman said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@ hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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