A contentious presidential election pitched an overly experienced insider against a populist promising change; camps divided and refused to listen to each other; the guy playing to our emotions bested the woman appealing to our logic.

No, I am not talking about our new U.S. president; I am looking back to the Hawaii State Teachers Association election in 2015.

Current union president Corey Rosenlee defeated former vice president Joan Lewis in a second election after filing a lawsuit against the union’s board of directors, which they both sat on, over not certifying the initial election results.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee center during press conference held on 22 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee’s transparency on union negotiations with the state left some teachers incredulous. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rosenlee’s platform called for greater action on behalf of teachers, smaller class sizes, an abolishment of the teacher evaluation system and better teacher pay. He argued that his experience mobilizing and conducting direct action, like marching on the State Capitol to demand air conditioning at Campbell High School, would be far more effective at reaching our dreams.

We voted for it, now we have it.

Last month, HSTA made the unprecedented move of releasing its negotiation proposal in an email to members. This level of transparency was one of Rosenlee’s key promises.

The multi-level proposal highlights six main areas that HSTA has identified as needed to create a better educational system.

Appropriate teacher evaluation: Get rid of the Educator Effectiveness System, which is proving time consuming and impractical. There have been steps to decrease workload in the evaluation, but the union would like a totally new system implemented.

Fair compensation to attract and retain teachers: Pay teachers better so fewer teachers leave and more people want to become teachers. This has been partnered with HSTA’s effort to pass a constitutional amendment to increase second-home property taxes to fund a more competitive teacher salary.

Teaching and learning environment: Using contract language to reduce class size and improve classroom conditions was successful for the Seattle and Chicago teacher unions, but they went on strike for those provisions.

Teacher and school empowerment: This concept is also alluded to in the new Department of Education strategic plan. Greater control of individual schools and classroom content seems to be a mutual want for both sides, but how does that affect statewide curriculum?

Protect and support teachers: The most interesting aspect of this section is proposal 40, which would flip the language of the contract from being inherently male, using words like he or his, to female.

The Every Student Succeeds Act: HSTA wants further input on the rollout of the new educational plan defined by the ESSA.

HSTA stepped up this tactic further by releasing a key provision of the state’s proposal: an annual 1 percent lump sum bonus for every teacher.

By the union’s math, this would be approximately $550 per teacher. I would receive $500. The bonus would be factored into an October paycheck and therefore would be taxable income. HSTA did not release any other information about the state’s proposal, including whether the current step movement and pay increases from the current contract would continue.

It has to be remembered that this is an ongoing negotiation; both sides are starting at basic positions to be whittled down into some kind of middle ground that will be equally disappointing to all.

But this time, all union members, and now the whole state, are able to see the starting points. This was a big gamble by the HSTA negotiation team. Will this leak ruin a long-standing good faith relationship?

Some teachers are incredulous. One person I spoke to commented that HSTA should have “just gone ahead and asked for a unicorn.” Others are becoming very vocal about how unacceptable they find the 1 percent bonus, taking to social media in torrents.

We, the members, need to consider both proposals and try to decide what is acceptable to us. What are you willing to cut out of the “unicorn” proposal? What would be a big enough bonus from the state?

Make your decision, and let the union know. Transparency is a two-way street.

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