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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 6, 2001

State librarian might get $22,000 raise

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

State librarian Virginia Lowell today could receive a $22,000 bump in pay to $108,000 that would — at least temporarily — give her a higher salary than the state schools superintendent.

Lowell is entering the fourth year of a four-year contract. But the $85,302 salary for the state librarian has been unchanged for more than a decade, said Herb Watanabe, chairman of the Board of Education, which oversees both the state librarian and schools superintendent.

The proposed increase represents a retroactive raise of more than 5 percent over the life of Lowell's contract, Watanabe said. Lowell earlier had received a "more than satisfactory" evaluation from the board.

"Things seem to be working quite well," said Donna Ikeda, chairwoman of the board's five-member library committee that unanimously recommended the pay raise. "She's done a good job in terms of keeping staff involved in planning and in the reorganization of the library system, the restructuring administratively."

Lowell's proposed raise, Watanabe said, would put her in line with the directors of operations similar in size to Hawai'i's 50 library branches and six bookmobiles.

The board informally has discussed increasing Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu's $90,041 salary, as well, Watanabe said. But long before the bitter teachers' strike in April, LeMahieu pledged not to accept a raise until the teachers had a contract.

"That's his fault," Ikeda said. "He was the one who said he would wait until the teachers got their increase. We're just honoring his wishes. Well, (teachers) still don't have a new contract."

This session, the Legislature gave the board the power to raise the librarian's salary to a maximum of $120,000 and to increase the superintendent's up to $150,000, Watanabe said.

When the board hired LeMahieu in 1998, his salary was $50,000 less than the average for superintendents of comparable districts.

This year, the Legislature concluded that librarians who oversee operations the size of Hawai'i's earn $106,000, Watanabe said.

But determining what are comparable positions on the Mainland can be tricky, said Mary Jo Lynch, director of the office of research and statistics for the Chicago-based American Library Association, the nation's biggest and oldest librarians group.

The highest paid state librarian is in Arizona, which pays $106,267, Lynch said. The lowest is in South Dakota, which pays $50,440.

Unlike Hawai'i, however, state librarians on the Mainland often primarily promote city and county library systems, which have their own directors, and help them develop programs.

Hawai'i's state system is unusual, Lynch said, because it's run more like a large city system. "The state librarian in Hawai'i is really the director of a large public library system and is responsible for all of the activities," Lynch said.

Compared to other large systems, Hawai'i' ranks 20th in the country and serves a population of 1.1 million people. The next largest system is San Diego's, which serves 1.2 million people. Yet San Diego's director earns $97,380.

The biggest system in the country is in Los Angeles, where the city director serves 3.7 million people and makes $150,392. Los Angeles County's system is the nation's second largest, serving 3.5 million people. L.A. County's director makes $128,968. The highest paid director ($175,000) is in Brooklyn, America's seventh largest system, Lynch said.

Watanabe acknowledged that some teachers might be upset if the board gives Lowell a pay raise. Their contract remains unsigned and unpaid while the state and union argue over whether a bonus for teachers with master's or advanced degrees was meant to be paid for one or two years.

Although the board oversees the schools superintendent and state librarian, Watanabe said, the operations are separate.

"Some teachers might say, 'How come you're taking care of her and not us?' " Watanabe said. "I think that would be a natural reaction. Some people still think the library program is tied to the DOE."

Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085 or dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com