Sunday, January 7, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 7, 2001

Legislators focus on teachers

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

How to recruit and retain good teachers and school principals is one of the top education priorities that lawmakers and schools superintendent Paul LeMahieu plan to tackle this session.

Schools superintendent Paul LeMahieu seeks ways of rewarding educators.

Advertiser library photo • Oct. 19, 2000

Senate Education Committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto said teacher pay and ensuring that teachers have access to professional development are key concerns for him.

"I think we need to do whatever we can to keep teachers and train them," he said.

The teachers’ union and school administrators say Hawaii’s school system doesn’t have enough qualified teachers. Union officials said the state needs to pay more to attract and keep teachers. Both sides have been in long and difficult negotiations over a new contract.

But the discussion of attracting and retaining education professionals will likely cover more ground than pay raises.

Sakamoto and House Education Committee Chairman Ken Ito want professional development programs for teachers as well as an alternative certification program to fast-track professionals into the public school system. They also said many administrators will retire soon, which will open up a need for leadership training.

"There’s going to be a big shortage of administrators in a few years, so we either start looking at it now and address this issue before it gets too late," Ito said.

LeMahieu said he supports an alternative certification program and calls professional development a priority. He said his staff also is researching ways that other school districts are rewarding educators in hopes of adopting some of those ideas. Tax credits for teachers are an example, he said.

Legislators supportive

Ito and Sakamoto said they’re interested in offering incentives to educators. In general, legislators want to be supportive of what LeMahieu wants, Sakamoto said.

The two education chairmen also appear supportive of other aspects of LeMahieu’s agenda, such as making sure school repairs and maintenance are up to standard and that schools have the electrical infrastructure necessary for computers.

Gov. Ben Cayetano has proposed that the Legislature approve spending $21 million for computers in classrooms and $6 million for the infrastructure to accommodate them. Cayetano also has proposed $4.5 million for textbooks, which LeMahieu said would go toward his Hawaii Content and Performance Standards agenda.

Ito and Sakamoto also want to expand the School-to-Work program and take a closer look at the recent charter-school law. Ito said there may be ways to modify the law to make charter schools more accountable.

Giving incentives to school volunteers is another issue Sakamoto wants to explore. Incentives could be a tax deduction or matching volunteer hours with dollars given to the school, he said.

Ito also said the House is working on a bill to create an early-childhood education program.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers, who have increased their numbers in the Legislature, have their own agenda. House Minority Leader Galen Fox said the Republican package will include the initiative for textbooks for every student, as well as the long-touted proposal to create local school districts each with a superintendent and an elected board, replacing the statewide Board of Education.

"There seems to be a lot of feeling that we help get parents more in charge of education," Fox said. "It would be much better if the people have their own board that lives with them in their neighborhood and gets to know them. This is especially important on the Neighbor Islands."

Open to all ideas

Ito said he’s open to all ideas to improve education, but that the research he found on the local school district proposal indicates it would create more bureaucracy.

But while lawmakers are keeping education among their top priorities, they face tough challenges to pay for programs to improve schools while dealing with other anticipated costs such as pay raises for other government workers.

In addition, many question how the state will find the money to reach compliance with the 1994 Felix consent decree for special-needs students. State officials are asking lawmakers for $716 million for the next two years to deal with the federal court order. After being found in contempt last May for not improving services, the state faces a December deadline to show the federal court it is meeting the children’s needs.

"I think there’s a commitment from all of those I talk to that we want to support education as much as we can, but that there’s not an unlimited source of money," Sakamoto said.

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