Bills aim to shield teacher positions
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
The Legislature is considering ways to save positions in public schools that may be on the chopping block as the Department of Education prepares to implement a new funding formula at the start of the next school year.
One bill would provide more than $27 million to hire about 400 teachers statewide. That would mean schools that are considering eliminating their librarians or art teachers could keep those employees and possibly hire more, said state Sen. Norman Sakamoto D-15th (Waimalu, Moanalua, Salt Lake).
Sakamoto said the additional teachers also would lower the student-teacher ratio, a widely acknowledged benefit in the classroom.
But not everyone is buying the proposal.
Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association, said while he supports the concept of giving schools additional resources, all schools will not necessarily benefit from the bill.
"Everyone is trying to look for a simple mathematical formula but it doesn't work universally," he said. Under this proposal, small schools would still have to cut teachers, he said.
"One size does not fit all," Takabayashi said.
If approved, the bill would result in one additional teacher for schools with 450 students, or four more teachers for schools with 1,800 students, Sakamoto said. Another bill proposed would provide $23 million in additional money to increase what some schools would receive under the weighted student formula, he said.
"We need to protect the really important components of schools — the teachers," he said. "If we can lower the class size and protect, within the system, those resource teachers and those special teachers ... then schools would have better choices."
Sakamoto said he is optimistic about both bills, considering the state's $574 million budget surplus.
Act 51 — the Reinventing Education Act — dramatically restructured the way public schools in Hawai'i are funded by distributing money to public schools based on the demographic of their student population. For example, more money would be allocated to students learning English as a second language or those from high-poverty areas.
The formula would take money from some schools and give to others. At schools that expect to lose money, administrators have been figuring out how to absorb the losses, and in many cases that has meant eliminating positions.
Dozens of positions across the state are affected, from librarians to janitors, counselors and even some teachers. That has raised concerns among parents and educators about the impact on students.
The 400 teaching positions that would be funded by this bill would not necessarily be new positions, Sakamoto said. They would be a mixture of positions under threat of elimination and new positions, he said.
Also, the positions won't necessarily all be special teachers — art, music, physical education, gifted and talented, librarians and counselors, Sakamoto said.
"(High schools with 1,800 students) would have four more teaching positions," he said. "The school can decide how best to use those positions. My goal isn't to say you have to keep your librarian."
The Castle complex plans to cut its $67,000 performing arts teaching position, threatening a popular drama program that serves eight elementary schools. These schools serve as feeders to Castle High and its award-winning performing arts program.
Karin Kosoc, a retired special education teacher, said the weighted student formula threatens teacher positions that are vital to the education of children and young adults.
Kosoc, 66, worked closely with students at Castle's Performing Arts Center and said she saw the effects of art on students.
"If you catch them and grab them through art and drama, it spills over into academics," she said. "Marvelous changes take place in the personality of the child by being involved in drama ... and arts."
Kosoc said the elimination of librarians, counselors, art teachers or other special positions would be a "terrible travesty."
State Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said that "any money or resources we can have for teachers we want."
"That's a given," she said.
But she also said there's no way to say if adding four teachers to each school would be adequate.
"It depends on how the school implements this and how they integrate the positions into their improvement plans," Hamamoto said.
"It's always about how is it going to fit in to promote your plans. But it won't hurt."
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.