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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Island Voices
Looming strike is not just about pay

By Karolyn Mossman
National Education Association director for Hawai'i

Apparently not everyone truly understands what this looming teachers' strike is all about.

The governor, through his PR department, is building a case against teacher pay raises because a) the state can't afford it, b) the teachers already got their big pay raises last time, and c) there should be something more than just doing seat time to get a pay raise.

Teachers who made the decision to strike have watched our colleagues leaving Hawai'i to teach elsewhere or changing professions after a few years because they cannot afford a decent lifestyle on the wages they are earning here, especially with the high cost of living.

These teachers are being replaced too often by well-meaning, good, caring individuals who are not qualified to prepare and deliver a quality curriculum. There is a severe teacher shortage around this country, and it is reaching crisis proportions in Hawai'i.

As a special-education teacher (21 years) in Hawai'i, I am weary from carrying the load because of the constant changeover of new teachers every year. It is hard to build quality programs when the staff changes so often.

This shortage is real, and the governor is doing little to deal with it other than raising the entry-level pay. Someone should design a salary schedule that would reward experience as well as professional development.

Oh, someone has? The Hawai'i State Teachers Association, along with various stakeholders in the community, spent several years developing just such a salary schedule. It was negotiated and agreed to in a memorandum of agreement in the 1995-99 contract, signed by the Board of Education and the governor as well as the HSTA. It provides several ways to encourage teachers to participate in quality professional development programs.

There would be a differentiation between those who have gotten additional degrees versus those who take a series of courses. There is an opportunity to give additional compensation for those who have demonstrated excellence in teaching. Teachers can continue to move across the schedule as they pick up courses, which must be signed off as appropriate by their administrator. For those who earn National Board certification, there are reimbursements and a bonus.

While continuing education and development of skills and knowledge are critical to successful teaching, a key component of recognizing a teacher's worth is experience. It takes years of experience to learn those little tricks of the trade. When to push a kid and when to back off. How to teach to a broad range of students. How long it will take to cover a specific concept. What part of the curriculum is better taught with manipulatives and what should just be drill and practice.

But most important, it takes teachers staying in the profession for years, working with their colleagues to garner the resources and develop quality programs. We must have a structure that recognizes years of experience with additional compensation so teachers will want to stay.

We need to implement incremental moves that teachers can count on. It can't be subject to "if there is money this year the state will recognize your experience, but if not, we can ignore it for year after year after year."

HSTA's proposal includes annual increments provided the teacher completes a successful evaluation. That's right. It is not for seat time. It is for meeting the expectations of the job. A new evaluation system has been developed and is waiting to be piloted when our contract is settled. In addition HSTA has been working hard to put forth a peer assistance and review program to assist and mentor new and struggling teachers.

Teachers have stood by and watched our classrooms become dilapidated and in disrepair, and we kept teaching. We have been without textbooks, materials and supplies, and we kept teaching. We have been without computers, infrastructures that are inadequate, and other basic technological needs, and we kept teaching. We have been given large classes with high numbers of special-needs children, and we kept teaching. We have had inadequate support services such as security personnel, educational assistants, clerical support, even room cleaners, and we kept teaching. Without a qualified teacher, who will keep teaching?

Yes, Governor, we did get raises four years ago, but we are still far from having competitive salaries that would attract and retain qualified teachers. The independent fact finders' report says the state has the money, but even if it doesn't, the crisis is upon us now and the community has prioritized.

You see, it isn't about raises for individual teachers. Individually, we may never financially recoup the losses of a strike. As individuals we can go elsewhere or do otherwise and take care of our own families as many of our colleagues have felt forced to do.

This isn't just about pay raises. This is about whether or not our children will get the education they deserve by a qualified teacher with all the resources necessary for them to learn. It is about whether or not we care enough to give our children the first of our fruits and not the scraps.

The teachers voted 99 percent to strike, knowing it will mean a huge sacrifice, but the future of our children, our very noble profession and our state is on the line. We don't want to strike, but we will because it is not only the right thing to do; it is the only thing we have left to us. Will you, Governor, do the right thing?