A new performance-based teacher evaluation system and reduced sick leave are the key issues preventing the Hawaii State Teachers Association from agreeing to a new contract with the state, union leaders and educators said.

HSTA President Wil Okabe said Tuesday that the state didn’t give the union sufficient time to work through the concerns it has with the latest contract proposal and communicate them with members, mirroring what happened in January.

But unlike in January when HSTA rushed a tentative contract agreement to its members — only to have them reject it because they didn’t understand its contents — Okabe said the union is not going to be bullied into bringing a new settlement proposal to teachers.

He said Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s “take-it-or-leave-it attitude” toward negotiations is preventing the two sides from resolving the labor dispute.

The state took its latest contract offer off the table Monday after the union rejected it.

“We made a comprehensive and fair offer and remain committed to reaching a contract with HSTA,” Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating to reach a resolution that results in a ratified contract.”

Contract talks resumed in November, but Okabe said the third bargaining session this week was cut short as the state declared its offer expired since HSTA could not accept it in its entirety.

Had the state been willing to give the union more time to consider the settlement offer and discuss it with members, Okabe said negotiations wouldn’t have to start over again next month.

The offer included restoring a 5 percent reduction in teacher pay that was instituted in 2011, 2 percent raises each of the next two years and $2,500 bonuses for new teachers who successfully complete three years of probation.

He said one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been a new teacher evaluation system that would tie pay to performance, including how well students do on standardized tests.

The state’s contract offer involved the union recognizing that the new system will include an annual evaluation of all teachers, based 50 percent on how teachers teach and 50 percent on the teacher’s contribution to student learning and growth.

Okabe said the union disliked how the state’s offer required teachers to “take a blind leap of faith” by agreeing to an evaluation system that has not been fully developed or defined, yet would determine future compensation and job security.

The state Department of Education has assured the union that a pilot evaluation program has allowed teachers to provide input on how well it works and ways to tweak it. But Okabe said direct talks with teachers suggest otherwise.

The teacher evaluation component of the contract is one of the questions on a survey the union wrapped up Tuesday. Okabe said the results will be made public sometime before January.

Problems with Sick Leave and Pay Discrepancy with UH Faculty

Teachers say evaluations are one of their biggest concerns with a new contract, but it’s not the only problem they had.

Some teachers are saying they would rather have bigger annual raises than a bonus for tenure. They don’t want to pit new teachers against veterans, which the new contract proposes.

Teachers also say they dislike that the state gave the University of Hawaii’s union members 3 percent annual raises over the next two years — but only offered HSTA 2 percent.

Other teachers really don’t like the state’s effort to reduce their annual number of sick days from 18 to 10, and they say the state won’t budge on this issue.

Not knowing enough about the new teacher evaluation system was one of the reasons teachers rejected the January contract offer, Okabe said. So over the next four months, HSTA conducted a series of meeting to better explain it and union members subsequently approved the contract offer in May.

By then, other settlement proposals had been introduced and the state said the January contract offer was no longer on the table. So negotiations had to again start fresh.

Board of Education member Jim Williams said the most recent proposal was $11 million more than what was offered in any previous state proposal.

“We are disappointed since the offer included more compensation and was also in line with proposals that HSTA leaders have previously approved,” he said in a news release Monday night.

There were 24 bargaining items that HSTA had previously agreed to over the previous 26 months of negotiations, according to the state release.

Okabe said the bulk of the settlement proposal has indeed remained the same, but there are still key sticking points like the teacher evaluation system.

“There were many points of agreement in the state’s offer,” Okabe said in a statement Tuesday. “However, rather than continue working on the tough issues together, the state in an ‘all or nothing’ position, withdrew its proposal requiring the parties to start once again.”

Okabe told Civil Beat that there was considerable movement during the most recent round of negotiations, so he failed to understand why the state would return to its “take-it-or-leave-it approach.”

He said this is what happened last time around. The state came with an offer. It was rushed to teachers for approval and they rejected it because they didn’t know enough about it.

“We’re not going to do the same thing again,” Okabe said.

Meantime, teachers’ grassroots “work to the rule” protests are gaining momentum. Nearly 100 of the state’s 254 public schools are participating in the demonstrations, which involve teachers waving signs along the street before and after class.

Despite a warning from state education officials earlier this month saying some teachers may be breaking their contract obligations by only working from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., a growing number of teachers plan to participate in the next “work to the rule” protest planned this Thursday.

Teachers go on winter break Friday. Okabe said he hopes the union and state can start negotiations again next month and approach the new year and the next legislative session with a renewed focus.

January to April will be critical months, he said, noting that the current two-year contract the state unilaterally imposed in July 2011 ends in June. The so-called “last, best, final offer” included pay cuts and higher health premiums.

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