Nearly 9,200 public school teachers should see a significant bump in their paychecks starting in November, several months after the Legislature approved the move to retain teachers by fixing longstanding pay inequity issues.

Teachers returned to work July 26 and classes began Aug. 1, but nearly 11 weeks into the school year, teachers had not seen their pay go up and were not told when they could expect the raises, which are to be retroactive to the start of the school year.

On Thursday, the Board of Education heard the DOE’s final plan to fix salary compression, a problem in which teacher pay is not commensurate with experience. Unlike the vast majority of U.S. school districts, Hawaii does not automatically increase teachers’ salaries with years of service. Each step up in pay must be negotiated by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which means in years when no negotiations takes place, often the result of budgeting, teacher pay stagnates. 

The 9,196 teachers affected, about 72% of the workforce, have been waiting to see raises on their paychecks since July, when Gov. David Ige signed a bill allocating the money for the correction. The salary increase will be up to $18,056 a year for the state’s most experienced teachers. 

The Board of Education reviewed the DOE’s final plan to increase teachers’ salaries, presented by Superintendent Keith Hayashi, right. Viola Gaskell/Civil Beat 2022

Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi presented the final implementation plan at a meeting Thursday morning. Payments that are past due will likely be paid in a lump sum on Nov. 18, according to DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani. 

Campbell High School English teacher Melissa Padilla said she was extremely relieved to hear a date announced for the raises. As the union representative at the largest high school in the state, Padilla said frustration was rising among teachers, particularly those who had been planning to retire but changed plans to stay in the classroom after the raises were approved.  

“I kept having to tell my colleagues, ‘it’s coming soon,’ and then it wouldn’t come,” Padilla said. 

HSTA and BOE member Kaimana Barcarse said the fact that many teachers decided to stay in their jobs instead of retiring helped with efforts to retain teachers amid a worsening teacher shortage.

Padilla, who is in her 30th year of teaching at Hawaii public schools, said she is all too familiar with the toll stagnant pay has taken on teacher retention. 

“A lot of friends left the state to teach elsewhere, or switched to private schools,” she said. “I’m one of the few in my cohort who is still in public education.”

How The Compression Problem Began

Hawaii’s pay compression problem began as a result of the 2008-2009 recession, when teachers saw decreased hours or were put on leave without pay. Budget decreases meant that the teachers’ union was unable to negotiate steps in pay when teachers did return to full-time work. Without correction, this meant that 13 years later, many of the state’s most experienced educators had still not reached the top of the pay scale.

HSTA President Osa Tui said that 2,316 teachers whose pay had been compressed will be moved to the top step, meaning those teachers’ salaries will go up $18,056 a year.  

Neither the Department of Education nor the teachers’ union have put together an estimate of the years of income loss resulting from compression. But Tui said a substantial amount of the teachers who will get the maximum pay increase should have received it 11 years ago. 

This year Gena Sansone started her 29th year as an educator at Hana School, and despite fulfilling the maximum amount of continued education credits, the other measure of pay in the DOE system, she still had not reached the pay ceiling. Over the years, Sansone took on a plethora of hard-to-fill positions, including registrar, English teacher, elementary school teacher and student activities coordinator at the rural school in East Maui. 

“I remember not getting steps for a long time,” Sansone said of the first half of her career. “I am no expert on the ways of the DOE, but I can tell you from my experience as a teacher that pay raises have been few and far between and mostly paltry.”

Sansone was planning to retire when the raises were announced. Now, she plans to stay on another three years so that her pension will reflect the new pay rate. DOE pensions are generally based on the three years an employee is paid the most during their tenure, which is why many of the teachers who had planned to retire decided to extend for another three years, according to Tui and others interviewed for this story.

Finally Approved

The Department of Education initially announced a plan to fix compression in January 2020, but the legislative request stalled after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Hayashi said the recent economic recovery enabled the Legislature and the DOE to fix the overdue problem. 

Kalani said the governor’s office required an implementation plan before releasing the funds, and the estimates from the 2020 plan needed a substantial overhaul. The DOE had to work with multiple state offices and HSTA before putting the implementation plan to the board. “On our end we worked as quickly as we could,” Kalani said. 

For some teachers, the decision to stay is as much about respect as it is money, said Dana Shishido, who teaches at Wheeler Elementary and has been with the DOE for 33 years. 

Shishido said that for years, she lived paycheck to paycheck as a single parent on a teachers’ salary that didn’t seem to budge. And though “it would have been nice to have the pay increases back then,” Shishido said the fix set back her plans for retirement.

“These past few years with the pandemic, that has been so difficult — not only the academics, but the kids’ social and behavioral skills really suffered and it drained so many teachers,” she said. “And now, my skills are now being acknowledged.” 

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