A high school principal in Hawaii, with enough years of service, could potentially make up to $196,470 a year. On the other hand, a complex area superintendent — a position that’s higher on the state Department of Education ladder — could aspire to a maximum salary of $170,000 in 2018.

That salary difference is preventing many qualified principals from moving into higher-level positions in the DOE, senior education officials said Thursday at a Hawaii Board of Education meeting, making the case for increasing CAS-level pay.

“Our pool tends to be non-high school principals that apply to be CASes, because (otherwise) they would have to take a cut,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said.

Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto speaks during board meeting.
Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wants to see pay increases for complex area superintendents. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

The full board voted Thursday to increase the pay range for complex area superintendents, as part of a compensation adjustment for two dozen superintendent positions. The pay raises received some pushback in the human resources committee, though DOE leaders said the pay raises will attract a more competitive pool of candidates.

Even with the raises, the upper end of pay will still be higher for some principals than even the deputy superintendent.

“Leadership — good leadership — is critical to anything happening,” BOE chairwoman Catherine Payne, a former high school principal and complex area superintendent, said at the meeting. “It’s hard enough to get people to move out of a school and into a CAS position which is a wholly different experience.”

The changes impact the three leadership tiers below the superintendent, who makes $240,000 a year per her contract and whose pay is not impacted by Thursday’s vote: the deputy superintendent; seven assistant superintendents who each oversee a specific area of education policy; and 15 complex area superintendents who are in charge of an entire geographic area that consists of a high school and the elementary and middle/intermediate schools feeding into it.

The board has signed off on subordinate superintendent pay raises every year since at least 2015.

Prior pay increases have ranged from 2% to 4.5% based on performance evaluations and the Hawaii consumer price index for that fiscal year.

This year’s raises, which are retroactive to July 1, continue the practice of tying increases to a performance evaluation, with one big change: adjusting complex area superintendent minimum salary from $135,000 to $145,000 and the maximum pay from $170,000 to $175,000.

There are five complex area superintendents who currently make under $135,000, while 49 principals within the public school system make more than that, Cindy Covell, DOE assistant superintendent in charge of talent management, said.

Covell said the department expects two CAS vacancies to open up this year and to raise the profile of that job, they need to raise the base pay.

“$135,000 was not competitive for a principal to fill vacant CAS positions,” Covell said at the meeting. “We believe it is necessary to increase the base CAS salary to cast a wide net.”

The average salary for a principal in Hawaii is $147,000, while the median assistant superintendent salary in the U.S. is $150,000, she said in response to a question from board member Ken Uemura on how the DOE arrived at the new $145,000 figure for CAS base pay.

Although it’s standard for a DOE principal to be promoted to serve as a CAS or assistant superintendent — as is the case with current assistant superintendents Donna Lum Kagawa, Rodney Luke and Heidi Armstrong — it’s also not uncommon for a principal in Hawaii to move to a complex area superintendent role but return to a principal role.

Pushback From Board Members

Board member Nolan Kawano, during the human resources subcommittee, questioned boosting supervisory-level pay considering the average teacher pay in Hawaii.

DOE Board Member Nolan Kawano.
Board member Nolan Kawano said teacher pay needs to be given attention too. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Teacher salaries in Hawaii, while not ranked last in the nation, drop close to or at the bottom of the rung nationally, when adjusted for the state’s high cost of living.

“While the board requires us to establish a competitive pay structure, I think it goes without saying we want to do the same for teachers as well,” he said.

He asked fellow members to defer action on approving superintendent pay raises until the board has a better understanding of how those pay adjustments will help promote a higher rate of teacher retention — a perennial challenge for the DOE.

“I don’t want to be able to address one part of the ledger, I want to be able to address the whole thing,” Kawano said.

Several board members inquired about the DOE’s long-promised salary study of teacher pay across the nation. Although no updates have been provided on that study to date, the DOE awarded a $130,000 contract to a Denver-based education consultancy firm to conduct the study.

The contract says a final report will be completed by the end of November.

The DOE is also holding “listening sessions” next week — facilitated by the same outside firm — to get feedback from DOE teachers on what it’s like to live on a teacher’s salary here in Hawaii.

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