Editor’s note: Civil Beat is updating its Public Employee Salaries Database for the 2022 fiscal year that began July 1. Click here to see the latest from all state and county agencies, as well as all information for prior fiscal years dating back to 2011 and a portal to related articles.

The salary hierarchy is clear when it comes to those who run Hawaii’s public schools and those who run the classrooms. It’s no surprise that principals make more than teachers — sometimes a lot more.

But the state Department of Education has hired people in recent years for new high-paying administrative roles, including central office positions for which the DOE could not provide clear-cut job descriptions.

Just 1.6% of all DOE employees — excluding high school principals who are among the top-compensated in the DOE — had a starting salary of at least $99,000 in the fiscal year that began on July 1, compared with 0.3% in 2011, according to Civil Beat’s Public Employee Salary Database.

That has raised calls for more transparency about the additional layers of bureaucracy even as schools struggle to recover from academic setbacks during more than a year of distance learning that began after the pandemic started in March 2020. The state also continues to suffer from a shortage in teachers and other jobs.

Queen Liliuokalani Building. Board of Education offices. 16 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Hawaii Department of Education is the state’s largest agency, with nearly 22,000 employees. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

For instance, recent positions include risk manager, with a starting salary of at least $112,138. The title “deputy complex area superintendent” also appeared for the first time in 2020 with a starting salary of $130,000, according to the database.

“What are these people doing? Are they providing direct support or oversight?” asked James Shon, former director of the Hawaii Educational Policy Center. “The overall amount of DOE money at the state level may or may not reflect an effort to support learning.”

The DOE, which oversees the nation’s only single-district statewide school system, is the state’s largest agency. The total number of employees has changed little over the past decade, from 21,928 in 2011 to 21,997, but overall salaries have risen.

More Transparency Needed

Using Hawaii’s public records law, Civil Beat requested salary information from all state and county governmental agencies as of July 1 when the 2022 fiscal year began. The news site has been collecting and publishing the salary data since launching in 2010, although the neighbor island data only goes back to the 2018 fiscal year for Hawaii and Maui counties and to 2016 for Kauai.

While some government agencies provided specific salary amounts, the DOE only offered broad salary ranges, citing Hawaii state law that allowed them to do so.

On average, there was a 23% percent increase in starting salaries across all DOE positions between fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2022. The superintendent made the most at $240,000 per year, while school security attendants made the least at $27,050 a year.

Starting pay for a Class VII certified teacher — someone with a doctorate degree — has risen 25%, from $52,429 in 2011 to $65,411 in 2022, while an education director’s pay went from $87,340 in 2011 to $112,138 in 2022, a 28% increase, according to Civil Beat’s salary database.

With 257 schools, Hawaii’s DOE employs roughly 13,000 teachers, librarians and counselors, who comprise roughly 60% of the agency’s workforce. The other 40% consists of support or administrative staff. That 60-40 staffing ratio is generally aligned with many public school districts around the country, according to Shon.

Corey Rosenlee, the former president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, has long advocated for increased public education funding, including spearheading a failed effort for a constitutional amendment to impose a state investment property tax for more public school revenue.

The $2.1 billion DOE budget is composed of 85% state general funds while most of the rest is federal money. But Rosenlee, a veteran teacher at Campbell High, said one way to make the case for more legislative funding is for the DOE to be more transparent about what exactly some of these high-level administrative positions do.

“The DOE needs to be able to argue specifically what those positions are for because it will make it easier for advocates to argue for money,” he said. “(The DOE) should be very open about what those positions do, so the public understands and when they don’t (know), they get a false impression they’re bureaucratic.”

Job Descriptions

In fiscal year 2020, Russell Suzuki — the Hawaii attorney general from 2018 to 2019 — became the DOE “risk manager” with a salary of at least $110,155. He is now making at least $112,138 a year in that same role, according to the database. It’s unclear if there was a similar job with a different title previously.

Suzuki did not respond to a request for comment, and DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani did not provide a job description as requested.

The title of coordinated support director also appeared in the database in 2016 and 2018. Camille Masutomi held that role, making at least $99,672 and $103,336 in those respective years.

Kalani explained that Masutomi was the chief of staff to the then-deputy superintendent, Stephen Schatz, but it’s not clear if others held similar roles in the past.

By fiscal year 2020, Masutomi was administrative assistant to the superintendent, making between $100,000 and $150,000. She currently serves as chief of staff to the interim superintendent, Keith Hayashi, who assumed the helm of the DOE on Aug. 1. Hayashi makes $210,000 a year, per a June 2021 Board of Education memo.

Kalani noted that Hawaii law “allows the department to create temporary positions” that don’t need legislative approval, which is otherwise required.

“We work within our operating budget annually if the need arises to create a temporary position outside of the legislative process,” she said.

When long-time complex area superintendent Art Souza retired, Janette Snelling became his deputy for a short while. Suevon Lee/Civil Beat/2019

The 15 complex area superintendents don’t ordinarily have deputies. But the new role has served as a stepping stone.

Janette Snelling was hired as deputy complex area superintendent in 2020 with a salary of at least $130,000.

She has since risen to become complex area superintendent of the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena area on Hawaii Island.

Kalani said other recent deputy complex area superintendents included Rebecca Winkie, who went on to become superintendent of Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai complex area after her predecessor retired over the summer.

Paul Zina was a deputy CAS who later took over the main role on Kauai after the retirement of Bill Arakaki, who is now a Board of Education member.

According to Kalani, the deputy complex area superintendent role is used on a case-by-cases basis for “succession planning and continuity,” intended to help an incoming complex area superintendent be trained and mentored under the long-serving, outgoing one.

“It’s only if there’s a long-time CAS retiring and they’re leaving,” she said of such deputy roles. Complex area superintendents make between $145,000 and $175,000.

In a March 2021 memo to the Board of Education, former superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she planned to install Winkie as deputy CAS for the second semester of the school year “to ease the transition and better prepare her for the role of CAS.”

Among other high-paying DOE positions are “executive assistants” to the seven assistant superintendents. These sound “clerical in nature,” Kalani said, but they serve more like “right-hand person to the assistant superintendent,” when that person is on leave or unable to carry out their regular job duties.

Some divisions in the DOE are now led by multiple managers. For instance, the number of “personnel directors” — who generally oversee human resource matters — increased to three in 2016. In fiscal year 2022, there were four personnel directors making between $112,138 and $132,495.

There are also more educational directors than before. These positions are in charge of a broad educational program area. In fiscal year 2016, the number of educational directors had jumped to three. In fiscal year 2022, three directors were making between $112,138 and $132,495.

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