Teachers may not get bonus on time
By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer
Negotiators for the state and teachers union continue to haggle over their unsigned contract, making it unlikely that teachers will receive their first payment on time.
The Department of Education and Hawai'i State Teachers Association are at odds over an item that gives teachers with master's degrees and professional diplomas a 3 percent bonus.
During negotiations at the height of April's three-week strike, the state calculated the cost of the bonus at $6.7 million. But that has risen to $20 million as the department and union continue to debate who is eligible for bonuses.
Even though the governor and teachers union yesterday said the dispute can be resolved, some tense rhetoric of the recent strike resurfaced.
"There's no signed contract right now, and there won't be one until we resolve this issue," said Gov. Ben Cayetano, while insisting that the state is not trying to back out of the deal.
"I think we can resolve it once we sit down and enter into some serious and sincere negotiations about this development."
But while the contract remains unsigned, the state has said it will not pay out on any of it, which appears likely to jeopardize a $1,100 retention bonus that returning teachers were to receive in their July 5 paycheck.
"We're being prudent using public money," said the state's chief negotiator Davis Yogi. "At this point, you don't want to be criticized for paying without a contract."
Yogi said the time has passed for the bonus to be processed in time for the July 5 paycheck. HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted acknowledged that teachers may have to wait for the payment.
"The difference between July 5 and July 20 to try and resolve this issue, we'll tolerate it, but boy, if we have to go beyond that point, then I think we're in real trouble," Husted said.
The two sides also are at odds over a contract item that abolishes the department's practice of "partial pay." If the first working days of the school year don't fall within a complete pay period, the department distributes that pay out over the rest of the year.
During negotiations, the state agreed to pay it all at once, but then found it would add $13 million to the upcoming school year budget.
"Again, the department never calculated it out," Husted said. "When their payroll people took a look at it, they all fainted."
Teachers may have to vote to agree to delay implementation of that item until the second year of the contract, Husted said.
Arguments over why the initial estimate for the master's degree bonus was so far off continue.
In an unprecedented move during the strike, schools superintendent Paul LeMahieu offered to pay for the bonus with DOE monies. Now, the rising cost worries DOE staff and the Board of Education.
Cayetano said the estimated cost of the bonus was developed by working with the HSTA.
"When we took a look at this particular provision, we worked with the HSTA in terms of developing the number of people who would be qualified because the Department of Education simply did not have the information," he said. "And so relying on information that we got from the HSTA, we came to the conclusion and calculation that this particular provision would cost us about $6.7 million. Had we known that it would cost instead as much as $20 million, I can assure you that we would not have agreed to it."
Husted disputed Cayetano's view, saying that "on three separate occasions our costing people cautioned the Department of Education about the cost of that provision. And there was no agreement to limit the cost of that item."
Husted also questioned why the governor has entered the debate.
"What makes me sad about it is it sounds as if the governor is picking a fight," she said.
Advertiser Capitol Bureau chief Kevin Dayton contributed to this story.