A year after teachers rejected their last tentative labor contract, the moment has finally arrived: pay raises and improved healthcare benefits are on their horizon.

Seventy percent of Hawaii’s more than 13,000 public school teachers cast their ballots Wednesday at roughly two dozen voting sites throughout the state to decide whether to ratify their new contract agreement. Nearly all of them — 95 percent — voted yes.

The results would suggest that the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s month-long outreach effort has paid off. Since the HSTA’s board of directors — after an all-night mediation session — unanimously approved the tentative agreement late last month, the union had set out to educate teachers about the contract’s details and urge them to vote in favor of the new deal, according to HSTA President Wil Okabe. Union representatives have visited every public school in the state, Okabe said.

Okabe spoke of teacher engagement and the widespread effort among educators to send the state a message. He spotlighted one teacher who gave birth yesterday and chose to cast her vote before returning to her newborn.

“It clearly shows that teachers are ready to go onto the next level and are headed to an education transformation to improve teaching,” Okabe said, adding that he had never seen such a large margin vote in favor of a contract agreement.

Since 2011, Hawaii’s teachers have been working on a state-imposed “last, best and final” contract that included 5 percent pay cuts and reduced health care benefits.

The new contract, which goes into effect July 1, restores the pay cuts and previous medical coverage premium percentages. Now, teachers will pay 40 percent — instead of half — of their health insurance premiums.

Teachers will also get pay raises over the next four years. Come July 1, all teachers will move up one notch on the salary schedule. Teachers who are already at the top will receive $1,500 bonuses.

And all teachers will receive 3.2 percent raises every year for the next three years.

Starting pay for licensed teachers, which currently stands at around $41,000, will increase to $43,800 next school year and, depending on their ratings, $46,000 by the 2016-17 school year. Mid-range teacher salaries will on July 1 increase from roughly $52,700 to about $57,000 and $61,600 as long as they fare well on evaluations. (See below for a complete breakdown.)

Justin Hughey, a special education teacher on Maui, said he voted to ratify the contract even though it isn’t perfect.

“Teachers are have been furloughed and … pay-reduced since 2009 and they’re desparate for some economic assistance,” he said. “They’re completely tired of this battle and how long it’s gone on.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie disclosed few details about the deal when he and several prominent state education officials in March announced the tentative agreement, noting only that it marks the most progressive labor contract in the country.

Okabe echoed Abercrombie’s comments, emphasizing that the new contract will allow the state to better recruit and retain teachers. The new deal could make Hawaii a national model for teacher contracts, he said.

The union has dedicated much of its time over the past two weeks to educating HSTA members about the contract’s details. Teachers last January rejected a tentative contract agreement — a decision that the union attributed to confusion over the deal’s provisions.

Of particular concern, Okabe said, was the contract’s teacher evaluation component, which had become a major sticking point in collective bargaining negotiations. Now, teachers will get to provide input on the new teacher evaluation system, which is currently being piloted at 81 schools across the state.

Okabe said much of the past month’s education campaign has been focused on informing teachers about the evaluation system. Surveys conducted by the union earlier this year suggested that teachers participating in the pilot were unsure about the system’s merits and how it would be implemented.

“Teachers want an evaluation because they understand that it’s important for students’ learning,” Okabe said. “But I think that by being able to craft the language and being able to sit with the Department of Education was a very important part for HSTA to work out this agreement.”

Okabe said the union relied heavily on communication through social media and email blasts to get the word out and inform teachers about the evaluation process.

“We’ve made every effort to use not only social media, but we also had our agents and our leaders go to every school in the state of Hawaii to explain the contract in detail,” Okabe told Civil Beat before the results were announced, adding that much of the education campaign also focused on explaining the benefits. According to Okabe, the new benefits would yield “huge savings” for the union’s members.

Until now, failed negotiations have repeatedly thwarted efforts to arrive at a contract deal. The HSTA rejected the 2 percent raises that the state had offered last December. Then, the state in January turned down an HSTA offer that called for 4 percent raises.

Abercrombie last month indicated that better fiscal conditions — as announced by the Council on Revenues — allowed the new contract to come to fruition.

When asked whether he was confident that the Legislature would allocate funding for the contract, Okabe said he’s confident that Hawaii’s lawmakers support public education.

“I do not believe that the Legislature would not fund this new contract,” he said.


Here’s a breakdown of how the new contract will affect salaries, according to the DOE:

School Year Starting Pay for
licensed teachers
First Year Licensed
Teacher 12-13
Mid-range Teacher Most Senior Teacher
2012-13 $41,026 $41,026 $52,655 $75,262
2013-14 $43,759 $45,072 $56,979 $81,775
2014-15 $45,159 $46,515 $58,802 $82,843
2015-16 $44,538 $47,250 $59,732 $83,203
2016-17 $45,963 $48,762 $61,644 $84,318
  • All teachers receive pay increases except for teachers with a marginal rating on their evaluations in 2013-14.
  • All teachers who receive rating of “effective” or “highly effective” in 2014-15 will receive pay increases in 2015-16. Same goes for the year after.

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