Bill to boost teacher pay moves over to House

A proposal that would help improve teacher compensation continues to work through the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 2488 has crossed over to the state House for consideration.

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As the current draft stands, the legislation would allocate $26,769,500 out of the state’s general revenues in the 2020-21 fiscal year to fund discretionary teacher salary adjustments as part of an “experimental modernization project” tackling teacher pay equity issues, pay differentials for certain teachers, or both.

There also would be $1,933,500 allocated for charter schools to provide compensation for shortage differentials, and $9,082,380 for fringe benefit costs.

The state Department of Education launched a multi-phased initiative to address teacher compensation late last year, and on Jan. 7, a pay differential — approved by the state Board of Education in December — was implemented to increase pay for teachers in areas with the most severe shortages: special education, Hawaiian language immersion and geographically hard-to-staff schools.

For the second phase, the DOE is seeking funding for an “experimental modernization project” to address equity and compression in teacher salaries.

Pay compression happens when there is only a small difference in pay between employees, regardless of skills or experience.

This second phase will allow the department, at its discretion, to adjust pay for existing teachers if it’s determined a salary is less than or equal to less experienced teachers in comparable positions.

“For many Big Island teachers, this bill represents a significant raise. Hamakua and Ka‘u schools are some of the hardest-to-staff areas in the state,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents 13,700 teachers, counselors, librarians and registrars in the state. “To recruit and retain teachers to those areas, the proposal would continue to fund the $7,500-a-year differentials that teachers in those complexes started earning this semester.

Teachers in Kohala, Kealakehe and Konawaena are now receiving $5,000 differentials.

“Assuring that those differentials continue next school year would help alleviate the teacher shortage crisis across the state.”

The measure passed first reading in the House and has been referred to the committees on Labor and Public Employment, Lower and Higher Education, and Finance.

The bill was scheduled to be heard last Friday by the Labor and Public Employment and Lower and Higher Education committees.

Meanwhile, legislation introduced by state House Speaker Scott Saiki that would have allowed residents to vote on an amendment to Hawaii’s constitution to give the state Board of Education “concurrent real property tax authority” to help fund teacher compensation, did not gain traction.

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House Bill 2671 was not heard by any of the House committees to which it was referred.

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

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