Public school teachers are voting this week on a tentative new contract that would mean neither raises nor cuts to their base salaries following months of negotiations that were complicated by the pandemic and the state’s financial woes.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association reached agreement with state officials on May 22 on a proposed contract that would cover the period from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023 since the current one expires at the end of this month. The deal must be ratified by at least 50%, plus one, of the union’s 13,500 teacher member base. Voting by electronic ballot is underway and will close on June 9.

In a message to members, HSTA Negotiations Chair Paul Daugherty called the contract talks, which began in December, “one of the most challenging negotiations” he had ever been a part of in his 20 years on the committee, given pandemic-related challenges and fiscal constraints.

HSTA Hawaii State Teachers Association Oahu Office located at 1200 Ala Kapuna Street.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association represents 13,500 public school teachers in the islands. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

At one point last year, it appeared as if Hawaii teachers could face furloughs or see a steep drop in salary by as much as 9%, but federal COVID-19 relief funds brought a relative sense of stability to the immediate future. State lawmakers also doled out one-time $2,200 teacher bonuses this past session, a controversial provision tucked into a federal appropriations bill that awaits the governor’s signature.

“While widespread access to vaccines and improving science about mitigating the spread of COVID-19 reduced the health risks for our members, the reality of the state’s dire financial outlook made this bargain very difficult,” Daugherty wrote.

He added that the infusion of federal relief funds to Hawaii was the “singular reason” the proposed new contract contains no pay cuts and maintains additional compensation at status quo, including supplemental pay for department heads, probationary bonuses, sabbaticals and hard-to-staff salary differentials in certain complex areas.

Talks were so fraught that the Hawaii Labor Relations Board declared an impasse on Feb. 3 and a mediator from Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services was enlisted to help the parties come to an agreement.

Tough Talks

While union representatives said they would have preferred to secure base pay raises for teachers in this new contract, an HSTA summary sheet for members said “it was not an option in the current financial climate.”

Teacher pay in the state is set by a pre-negotiated salary schedule composed of various steps in which a teacher may achieve higher pay by accruing professional development hours or academic credits or through pre-negotiated increases at certain time increments.

The new proposed agreement contains no step movements for the next two years, the union said.

Under the current salary schedule, a teacher who has a bachelor’s degree, has completed a state-approved teacher education program and is eligible to attain a state teacher license would start at a $50,819 annual salary.

One provision that was not renewed in the new proposed agreement was an automatic 1.46% bump in teacher base pay when 21 hours of “job-embedded professional development” is completed. Funding for this extra compensation was not included in the 2021 legislative session, the union said, but added that state education officials have expressed support to find a way to continue this program.

The union also said it fought unsuccessfully to make the so-called salary differentials for special education teachers, Hawaiian language immersion teachers and those teaching in remote geographic regions of Hawaii “a permanent part of the contract.” However, those salary differentials, which range from $3,000 to $10,000 yearly, will remain intact for the upcoming school year, according to a DOE memo dated May 21.

Additionally, the HSTA said it could not secure other things like “COVID-19 language” in the settlement but it expects the state Department of Education to continue to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding school health and safety protocols. The plan for now is to have all DOE schools reopen for full in-person learning by the start of the new year on Aug. 3.

The contract talks took place between the HSTA negotiations committee and representatives from the DOE, the Board of Education and the governor’s office.

The Board of Education will vote on whether to approve the contract during a meeting on Thursday.

If ratified, the new contract takes effect July 1. If not enough affirmative votes are mustered, the HSTA negotiations team will have to return to the bargaining table “to further negotiate with no guarantees,” according to the union.

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