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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 17, 2005

Substitute teachers awarded back pay

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer

The state could have to pay up to $15 million in back wages to substitute teachers under a Circuit Court ruling yesterday.

Nearly 9,000 substitutes filed a class-action lawsuit in 2002 arguing that they have been shortchanged by the state Department of Education since 1996.

Circuit Judge Karen Ahn ruled in the substitutes' favor, but because of the statute of limitations they can receive back pay from November 2000 only.

"There's justice," said substitute teacher David Garner. "There's finally relief for substitute teachers."

If the state does not appeal, substitute teachers could start receiving restitution in a few months. If the state does appeal, it could be years before the substitutes get what they believe they are owed, roughly $30 for every day they worked between Nov. 1, 2000, and June 30, 2005.

In response to the ruling, DOE Superintendent Pat Hamamoto issued a statement expressing her disappointment. "The department is working with the attorney general to determine our next course of action, which may include an appeal," she said.

The state hires about 1,000 substitute teachers every day to cover for teachers who are sick or otherwise unable to be in class.

Garner said yesterday that if the state does appeal, some substitutes are considering organizing a strike or work stoppage.

Paul Alston, an attorney for the substitutes, believes they should be paid $150 a day, rather than the $112 they were earning until July 1, when the Legislature bumped their pay to a three-tiered scale ranging from $120 to $140.

The substitutes will go to the state Legislature this session to ask that the scale be raised in accordance with Ahn's ruling.

Until the Legislature set a flat rate this year, substitute teacher pay had been tied to that of regular school teachers.

In 1996, the Legislature passed a law that would base substitutes' pay on the wages of a "Class 2" teacher, which at that time was a licensed school teacher who had completed four years of acceptable college education.

The problem arose when the DOE changed its definition of a "Class 2" teacher to someone who has a master's degree and subsequently linked substitutes' pay to the lowest-paid emergency hires, who do not have licenses or certification.

The substitutes have since argued that their pay should be linked to regular school teachers with the same educational and licensing requirements as those of the 1996 Class 2 teachers.

The state held the position that they had been following the substance of the 1996 law by paying substitutes a percentage of the salary of an instructor who has four years of college experience, but is not qualified to teach under DOE guidelines.

However, because substitutes need certification, Ahn ruled they should have been paid according to what regular certified and licensed teachers earned. By the formula set in 1996, this would be roughly 73 percent of a regular teacher's salary.

"I'm elated. I'm happy," said Salome Sato, who has been a substitute teacher for a decade.

But she and other substitutes said problems remain.

Sato said that people may consider $130 to be a good daily rate, but she pointed out that even if a substitute works every school day, they do not receive benefits such as health insurance and are not even covered by the liability insurance for regular teachers.

Wayne Murakami, who has been a substitute for 20 years, estimated that he has missed out on roughly $4,200 a year since 1996.

He also is concerned by changes to the policy for substitutes who work less than a full day. Under the lower pay scale, they made $84 if they worked four hours, but now they make only $79 based on an hourly rate.

This issue was not addressed by the lawsuit, but Murakami wants to see it corrected. "They're continuing to penalize anything less than a full day of work," he said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.