Hawaii’s public school teachers agreed to forgo built-in pay raises as they approved a new two-year contract that the union official who led the negotiations called “the best we could get.”

Only 23% of the eligible Hawaii State Teachers Association members — or 3,148 teachers out of roughly 13,500 total members — cast a ballot, but that was enough to ratify the contract, which was reached on May 22 after fraught negotiations between the union, the governor’s office, the state Department of Education and the Board of Education.

The new contract, which covers July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023, was hammered out during especially trying circumstances given the pandemic-induced state revenue shortfall. The bottom line is that teacher salaries will remain fixed for the next two years. Most additional compensation provisions were left untouched. No teacher pay cuts or furloughs were included.

“Yes, the settlement was disappointing for many, but it was the best we could get during a pandemic and its economic consequences,” HSTA negotiations chair Paul Daugherty said in a statement posted to the union’s website late Wednesday afternoon.

Honowai Elementary School Kindergarten teacher May Anne Kim teaches in her classroom.
Just 23% of HSTA members cast an online ballot to ratify a new two-year contract starting July 1. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Online voting by HSTA members took place through 4 p.m. Wednesday. The voting window occurred late in the school year and into the summer recess due to a delay in reaching the settlement. Of those who cast ballots, 87% were in favor of the deal.

In a message to members, union representatives pledged to “aggressively pursue” the restoration of 21 hours of job-embedded professional development credits by directly appealing to the Board of Education and Department of Education.

Once fulfilled, those credits would bump up a teacher’s salary by 1.46%. The state Legislature this past session decided not to fund the program, which costs $12 million a year.

“If you continue to earn credits, you will still continue to get pay raises,” said Osa Tui Jr., a member of the HSTA negotiations committee and incoming president of the union. “Now, in this contract, no one’s going to move up a step.”

“We are hopeful the department and the board see the value in continuing the 21 hours,” he added.

HSTA officials also said they would try to modify the system through which teachers can reapply for a new position within the DOE.

While school administrators have year-round opportunities to apply for a new position, teachers have a much narrower window to do so. That means they’re often left in the difficult position of having to quit their current role and reapply to the DOE if a new opportunity arises outside the so-called “teacher assignment and transfer program” period.

The union added it would also push to add gender-neutral language in the contract, ensure any pandemic-related health and safety protocols are in keeping with federal guidance and to insert any supplemental agreements as needed for the state’s charter schools.

The last time HSTA members were asked to ratify a new contract was in 2017. Of the nearly 8,000 members who cast a ballot, 98% voted to ratify.

The next round of negotiations is expected to begin in a little over a year. Union officials expressed optimism that a new permanent superintendent will be in place by then.

One of the challenges of this year’s negotiations, said Tui, was the fact that outgoing superintendent Christina Kishimoto was barely present at the talks after deciding earlier this year not to seek a contract renewal.

“The hard part of this round and four years ago was that both of those times, we were negotiating with a (DOE) whose superintendent already had the pink slip,” Tui said, referring to Kathryn Matayoshi, the prior superintendent. “We anticipate the next superintendent will be much more engaged in the process and want to work with us.”

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