Cory Rosenlee doesn’t measure success in the form of his paycheck. Because if he did, he said he wouldn’t being doing so well.
As a teacher at Campbell High School in Honolulu, Rosenlee said he is faced with a low salary, no overtime pay and one of the highest costs of living in the country.
He testified Friday in favor of House Concurrent Resolution 90, which would ask the state to establish a minimum median salary for Hawaii DOE teachers. The resolution was passed by the House Committee on Labor and Public Employment, along with a couple other resolutions that also address teachers’ pay in Hawaii.
The average teacher’s salary in Hawaii was $55,930 in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, teachers in New York made $75,250 on average, while teachers in Washington state made $61,210.
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Currently, Honolulu teachers have the lowest median salary of the 60 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. when adjusted for the cost of living, according to the resolution proposed by Rep. Matt LoPresti of House District 41. Over half of all new-arriving teachers in Hawaii leave their jobs within the first five years, and many move to cities on the mainland so they can receive higher salaries, the resolution states.
“My salary has made it extremely difficult to maintain a middle-class lifestyle,” teacher Jason Duncan said in support of HCR 90. “We simply don’t have the extra money for things most middle-class families on the mainland take for granted.”
If HCR 90 also passes through the House Committees on Education and Finance, it would ask the governor, Board of Education, and the Hawaii State Teachers Association to establish a minimum median salary that would be adjustable to Hawaii’s cost of living.
The Department of Education was the only organization that testified in opposition to the resolution. Right now, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the DOE are negotiating teachers’ salaries for the next contract period, and passing the resolution would be complicate the process, the DOE stated in written testimony.
Several teachers testified in support of HCR 90, and almost all of them said they barely get by financially. Rosenlee said that over the last few years, he’s seen dozens of teachers cycle through Campbell Elementary School. He’s been teaching at the school for eight years, and says that many of the teachers who do stick around must get a second job to help pay the bills.
“When you pay Hawaii teachers the lowest in the nation, we can’t pay and recruit enough teachers,” Rosenlee said.
But the teachers aren’t the only ones taking a hit from Hawaii’s low salaries. Because the state doesn’t offer competitive salaries, under-qualified teachers are frequently hired for the job, Rosenlee said.
“We’re starting off the year, and we can’t find (teachers),” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s not about finding the best qualified person for the position, it’s finding anyone for the position.”
Because many teachers aren’t qualified to teach in the areas that they’re placed in, students don’t get the best preparation for college, Rosenlee said.
Another resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 92, would ask the state to start giving overtime pay to teachers. Currently, teachers are paid for the length of the school day, but many of them stay after school to help students, or go on field trips that are much longer than a standard school day.
“My colleagues and I are spending our unpaid time with these students,” teacher Lanaly Cabalo said in support of HCR 92. “That doesn’t even include all the (hours) we take out of our day to tutor kids after school, after our work day is already done… some of my colleagues stay till 7 p.m. with students.”
The Department of Education was the only opponent of HCR 92, stating that teachers’ compensation should be addressed by the union and their employers through negotiations.
Another proposed resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 116, would ask push the DOE and the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education to conduct a study that would examine why so many teachers leave the state of Hawaii. If the resolution passes through the House committees on Education and Higher Education, the proposed study would offer recommendations to help keep teachers in Hawaii public schools.
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