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Public school teachers ratify four-year contract with state

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Hawaiʻi’s public school teachers voted 92% in favor Wednesday night, April 26, of ratifying a new four-year agreement, which will begin July 1, 2023, according to the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association.

The 2023 Hawai’i State Teachers Association negotiation team (L-R): Kathy Shibuya, Committee Member (Kauaʻi Chapter); Colleen Bird, HSTA Negotiations and Research Specialist; Jenne Olayon, Committee Vice Chair (Hilo Chapter); Logan Okita, HSTA Vice President; Osa Tui, Jr., HSTA President (back); Diane Mokuau, Committee Chair (Molokaʻi Chapter) (front); HSTA NEA Director Aaron Kubo (present to support the team); David Negaard, Committee Member (Maui Chapter); Andrea Eshelman, HSTA Chief Negotiator and Deputy Executive Director. Not pictured: Lisa Morrison, HSTA Secretary-Treasurer; Ann Mahi, HSTA Executive Director. (Courtesy photo)

Nearly 7,000 of the 13,500 teachers represented by the union voted at 31 polling sites throughout the state. A final tally will be taken May 4 to account for outstanding absentee ballots that are being mailed in, but the remaining uncounted ballots are not enough to sway the outcome of the ratification vote, according to the union.

The majority voted to approve a tentative settlement — reached on April 14 during negotiations with the Hawaiʻi Department of Education, the union and Gov. Josh Green — that included an approximately 14.5% pay increase throughout the four-year contract period.

It includes average annual pay raises of 3.4% for teachers to help stabilize Hawai‘i’s public education workforce. Overall, this package will increase the average teacher salary by more than $10,000, according to the union.

Wednesday’s ratification paves the way for state lawmakers to approve the $577 million to fund the contract before the end of the legislative session. 

“There’s no question, this is the best contract we’ve ever had,” said Louise Cayetano, Fern Elementary STEM/robotics teacher. “I’ve been going on 36 years now. You know, to see something like that visualize, it’s just like, wow, materialize like magic you know. But it’s a lot of hard work by everybody,”

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But Andrew Sanchez, an English special education teacher at Keaʻau High School on the Big Island, said: “We donʻt have to want to work multiple jobs to feed our families. Hawaiʻi educators are the most downtrodden public servants on the planet I feel.”

He and two fellow teachers protested against ratifying the agreement at the polling site of Keaʻau Intermediate School. Sanchez said the 3.4% raise does not begin to keep up with inflation. He said school teachers continue “to settle” for bad contracts.

The agreement raises pay for instructors, who are teachers working toward licensure, which will help in teacher recruitment.

The settlement also provides bonuses for the most experienced teachers to increase teacher retention.

Additionally, teachers who traditionally work after-hours to support extracurricular programs such as band, drama and chorus, will receive raises to acknowledge their significant contributions to student enrichment.

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Other cost-items include increases in employer contributions to teachers’ health insurance premiums.

The union had originally asked for a 28% raise throughout the four-year term, Sanchez said.

“We had asked for significantly larger raises, but understand that the state has less money to pay for numerous key priorities in addition to addressing teacher compensation, such as creating affordable housing, bringing down the state’s high cost of living and preserving our natural resources,” Tui said when the original tentative agreement was reached.

“While the state had been predicting a budget surplus, the Council on Revenues’ revised forecast slashed projections by $328 million, affecting key funding decisions. Also, a number of key education-related initiatives, including universal pre-K, developing teacher workforce housing, and state teacher tax credits will take considerable resources to fund.

But Tui said it is the “strongest contract” the teachers union has achieved since 2013.

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“Ultimately, the salary improvements … will benefit the public school students of Hawaiʻi who should see improved recruitment and retention of highly qualified educators to our classrooms,” he said.

The agreement also establishes a program to minimize learning-loss during emergency school closures, by allowing schools to continue delivering instruction.

The agreement assures improvements in health and safety in the work environment, and provides for creation of work groups to address student needs including Hawaiian Education; Career and Technical Education; movement toward a restorative student discipline model; and for English Language Learners (formerly English as a Second Language).

“This agreement helps set a solid foundation for the next four years with predictable increases that recognize the incredible work of the educators in our schools who directly support student learning,” said Keith Hayashi, Hawaiʻi School superintendent. “It also elevates the teaching profession across the pipeline — from beginning teachers to veteran teachers to non-traditional teachers — while supporting their continued professional growth.”

Full details of the pending contract settlement can be found on the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association website.

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