Tuesday | February 21, 2017
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Teachers protest contract situation

Kealakehe Elementary School special education teacher Julie Vernon held a sign protesting the continuing lack of contract between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Thursday morning.

As Vernon, who previously served in the Peace Corps and has been at the school for three years, waved at drivers honking car horns, she outlined the reasons she was participating in the “work to rule” protest.

“So that I could actually continue teaching,” Vernon said. “I have student loans coming out of every corner. It’s about being able to pay off the debt.”

She has four degrees to qualify her to teach the special needs students, and on top of the loans, she said she buys paper, school supplies and sometimes gas to take her students on field trips.

“I love what I do,” Vernon said. “I love watching students learn. I’ve gone on ramen noodles for a month just so I can pay for stuff for my classroom.”

Vernon wasn’t alone Thursday morning. At 7:15, teachers, tutors and their supporters gathered along Kealakaa Street, during time teachers typically spend preparing for the school day, to protest Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the ongoing lack of a new teacher contract.

Kealakehe Elementary teacher and HSTA Kona Chapter President Diane Aoki credited Oahu’s Campbell High School with starting the “work to rule” protests, in which teachers work only for the hours they’re contracted — the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day. Campbell teachers have put together a proposed bill for legislators to consider next session regarding teacher quality, she said, taking action, so they’re more than waving signs and protesting.

The lack of a new contract and the feeling they aren’t invited to be a part of the bargaining process “takes away a lot of our voice,” Aoki said. “There used to be a value on cooperation. As they negotiate a new contract, we want to make sure the sacrifices we made the last couple of years are considered.”

Those sacrifices include working longer hours without pay increases, continued furlough days, now called direct leave without pay, and increasing pressure to get good results on standardized tests. Teachers also absorbed both a larger portion of their health insurance costs, as well as a premium increase.

“More is expected of us on our own time,” Aoki said. “A lot of people are leaving, going, finding other jobs.”

Sharon Seymour, a 32-year educator who teaches at Kealakehe Intermediate School, said she met recently with several other veteran teachers. As they discussed the current contract situation, as well as the changes being made in education in general, all of them said they would not choose to become teachers if they had known about today’s situation.

Other teachers said Abercrombie’s attitude feels like punishment for teachers, although they don’t know what made him so angry.

According to the Department of Education website, a starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree who has not completed a state-approved teacher education program would have a starting salary of about $32,200. With a master’s degree, that starting teacher would have a starting salary of $34,800. A teacher who has completed a state-approved teacher education program with a bachelors degree would have a starting salary of $42,500, and one who has a master’s degree would begin at $45,900. According to the terms of the contract under which teachers are operating, teachers would be docked about 3.5 percent of those figures. The figures already reflected a 1.5 percent salary reduction, the DOE website said.

Those salaries are to be paid to teachers over a 10-month period. The number of days teachers are required to work annually was not immediately available.