Who’s working in our public school system and how do we value their work?

Those are questions at the heart of Civil Beat’s decision to ask the Hawaii Department of Education to share — as is required by state law — the names, positions and salaries of all its employees.

The education department is the state’s largest single expense, accounting for 41 percent of the $5.5 billion general fund budget. It costs taxpayers approximately $2.1 billion annually to run 254 regular public schools and 13 special- and adult-education schools.1 About $1.2 billion of that pays the salaries of nearly 22,000 workers. Another $450 million covers their fringe benefits.2 Benefits, typically more generous than benefits in the private sector, can account for a significant portion of public employees’ salaries and are not included in this report.

How much is spent on public education — and whether it’s spent wisely — is an issue in the governor’s race, with Democrat Neil Abercrombie critical of the administration of his opponent, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona and Gov. Linda Lingle for furloughing teachers and shuttering schools on 17 instructional days last year.

When evaluating the tough budget decisions government leaders have to make, the more citizens know the better. At Civil Beat, providing data on how government works and how it spends taxpayer funds is central to our commitment to truth and transparency.

The education department’s Office of Human Resources provided Civil Beat with a list of all 21,929 department employees that included their names, professional titles and salary codes. It also gave us documents or pointed us to documents which we used to match an individual salary code to a salary range.

Using the data the Department of Education made available, we determined the department’s highest-paid employees and lowest-earning positions. The highest-paid employees in the department earn 9 times more than the lowest-paid. Our analysis also showed that women still dominate the education system.

Our work makes it possible for full members of Civil Beat to be able to see the name of each employee matched with their salary range.

To see a sample of the searchable database available to full members, please go here. We have published similar databases for state employees, University of Hawaii employees, the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. and the Legislature. We will be publishing the same information regarding the judiciary, Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the City and County of Honolulu.

Here is the data as we received it from the Department of Education.

The salary ranges that are being shown have not been adjusted for reductions due to furloughs. Depending on bargaining unit, department employees are being furloughed between nine and 21 days this year. Click here to view the furlough calendars for all employees.

  1. An earlier version of this article stated the state pays $2.2 billion to run the school system. That figure included the $60 million spent on charter schools, which are not included in this analysis because their employees are subject to separate union contracts.
  2. The $450 million that pays for employee fringe benefits is located in the Department of Budget and Finance budget — not in the Department of Education budget. This, combined with the amount spent on salaries, amounts to about 78 percent of the system’s total budget.

All good “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fans know that 42 is the “ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe and everything” — everything, that is, except the Hawaii Department of Education.

The answer to the department’s salary data seems to be 68:

  • 68 percent of the department’s budget pays employee salaries.
  • Approximately 68 percent of employees in the department make more than Hawaii’s mean annual wage of $42,760. (The exact figure isn’t clear because the department is not required to disclose actual salaries for unionized workers, just ranges.)

The 21,929 employees fill at least 153 unique positions within the department. They range from audio-visual technicians and teachers to transportation services and personnel managers. The unionized employees are represented by 10 distinct bargaining units — each with its own contract — in three unions.

A few other interesting things we found:

  • Department salaries range from a low of $18,078 to a high of $155,782.
  • As many as 903 employees, or 4 percent, could qualify for federal nutrition assistance of up to $314 a month, based on the low end of their salary ranges.
  • The 12 highest-paid high school principals have the potential to make almost $6,000 more than the superintendent.
  • At least 56 school principals can make up to $35,000 more annually than the $115,000 that 11 of the 13 complex area superintendents earn.
  • There are more than 2,000 special education teachers in the department, accounting for more than 15 percent of total teachers. Special ed students account for approximately 10 percent of total public school enrollment. The national average is around 13 percent of students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. We were unable to find a national average for the percentage special education teachers.

56 Percent of Employees are Teachers

Of the department’s employees, 56 percent are teachers. Roughly one-fifth of those fall into the two middle salary ranges, and the remaining teachers are distributed almost equally in the two highest salary ranges (classes VI and VII) and the lowest two ranges (classes II and III).

Acting Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said that is partially because the classification system is based on professional development and post-graduate credits. The more credits teachers earn and the longer they work in the department, the higher classification they attain.

Most new teachers remain in classes II and III for several years before they start gaining additional credits.

“When they first get into the system, they’re focusing on the teaching,” Nozoe said. “That part takes a little while, because they’re honing their craft and getting comfortable in the classroom. After a couple of years, they begin to have time to earn the credits to move forward.”

Some move more quickly than others, based in part on how many post-graduate credits they had before they began teaching. It is also about the same time that some teachers realize they are not cut out for the classroom and they leave the system.

Teacher retention is better now than it used to be, Nozoe said.

“It says a lot that we have so many teachers in those higher classifications,” he said. “It says there are a lot of teachers in the department that have 10, 15 or more years of experience, and they’ve gone through and taken their classes and improved as professionals.”

Here are some annual salaries for teachers and how they compare with national salaries:

  • Hawaii school teachers earn a range from $30,114 to $79,170. The national range of wages for all teacher classifications, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is from a mean of $27,450 for preschool teachers to a mean of $55,120 for high school teachers.
  • Special education teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels earn between $40,567 and $79,170. The national means range from $53,770 for elementary school special ed teachers to $56,420 for high school special ed teachers.

It takes more than just classroom teachers to make an education system. Other jobs you’ll find on the department payroll (some are ranges because salary ranges were provided for unionized positions):

  • Clerk typist: $23,688 to $42,684
  • Purchasing technician: $28,836 to $44,412
  • Television production technician: $31,212 to $48,048
  • School psychologists: $51,312 to $75,960 (or up to $81,128 for working at the district level)
  • School safety and security officer: $31,212 to $48,048
  • Cafeteria helper: $33,228
  • Food services driver: $34,164
  • Power mower operator: $34,164 to $36,576
  • Tractor operator: $35,544
  • Librarian: $35,329 to $69,054
  • Illustrator/photographer: $36,516 to $56,172
  • Farm manager: $40,284 to $44,496

Along with teachers, the employees break down into two other major groups: Education officers account for 4 percent of the department’s employees, and “all other” employees account for the remaining 40 percent.

To cut it another way, Civil Beat’s analysis revealed that 12,988 department employees, or 59 percent, are directly involved in educating children on a daily basis at the school level. These are the principals, vice principals, athletic trainers, teachers, counselors and librarians.

The second-largest category of employees — 5,003, or 23 percent — work in pure support positions, also at the school level. These include custodial workers, clerical employees, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

Compare those figures with the 304 employees who work in an “educational administration” position. They constitute 1 percent of the department’s entire employees. This 1 percent includes the superintendent, many of the people who work in her office, assistant superintendents, budget analysts, auditors and personnel specialists.

The remaining 3,634 employees — 17 percent — provide educational support at the school and complex levels. They are the speech pathologists, psychologists, social workers, behavioral specialists, human services professionals, bilingual and bicultural specialists, interpreters, library assistants and mental health supervisors.

“Myth” about Department

These numbers seem to undermine a seemingly widespread belief that the department is top-heavy.

“That myth is very conveniently popular,” Nozoe said. “People like to talk about the assistant superintendents to the assistant superintendents and (Assistant Superintendent of Business Services) Randy Moore’s 8,000 plumbers. It’s very easy and it’s very convenient to say that it’s a bloated bureaucracy.”

Part of that misconception is because the department performs a double function that most state education departments don’t, he said.

“When you shake it out, Hawaii’s both a local agency and a state agency,” Nozoe said. “So when you just compare our total central office staffing to a local education agency on the mainland, we’re at parity — or even under. And if you compare us to a state agency on the mainland, we’re either at parity or under. But if you combine the two, the (local education agency) and the (state education agency), compared to the mainland levels, we’re tiny.”

Nozoe said the department has tried numerous ways to make its finances and makeup transparent for the purpose of dispelling the belief that it’s a bloated bureaucracy.

“While it is unfortunate that people like to hang onto that myth, we’ve just got to keep doing our work and moving forward.”

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