Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Teacher pact dispute is a confusing mess

It is almost impossible to believe that the state and the public teachers' union entered into a new contract this year without knowing the scope or cost of a key contract component.

But that is what we are now being told. One of the sweeteners in the contract (that also ties in with the push for professional development) was to pay a 3 percent bonus to teachers who hold extra qualifications — master's degrees and/or professional diplomas.

Now we are being told that there is confusion over how many teachers qualify for the bonus as well as whether it was meant as a one-time perk or a contract-long arrangement. That's a heck of a lot of ambiguity for a document of this importance.

The original cost estimate was $6.7 million, which Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said would be covered out of the school system's own budget. Now the price tag is set as high as $20 million, depending on the number of years it covers and the number of teachers eligible.

Gov. Ben Cayetano says he never would have agreed to the deal if he understood it would carry a $20 million pricetag. The teachers say they were clear from the get-go that this would be expensive, and that they told the state as much.

There is even confusion as to where the figures came from to build a cost estimate. Cayetano says he had to work with the union since the Department of Education — incredibly — does not have a precise handle on how many teachers are in this merit class even though the class was created in 1994.

The union says it did issue some general warnings about potential cost implications, but did not provide the specific figures on which cost estimates were based.

What in the world is going on here?

It appears clear that everyone understood what the concept was, going in: To attract and keep well-qualified teachers, a bonus would be paid. As the state and the union try to untangle this knot, they must not lose sight of that concept.

To do otherwise is to say that we value professionalism and improvement of teacher quality, but only if it doesn't cost us too much. What kind of a message is that?