Teachers rally for ‘yes’ on tax measure

  • Teachers sign wave in support of the constitutional amendment to provide by law surcharge on investment real property to support public education Tuesday morning outside of Hilo High School. (STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald)
  • Derek Inouye, a Hilo High School AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher sign waves in support of the constitutional amendment to provide by law surcharge on investment real property to support public education Tuesday morning outside of Hilo High School. (STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — A number of teachers, along with some students and parents, lined sidewalks in front of Hilo High and Hilo Intermediate schools early Tuesday morning.

Educators across the state held a “walk-in” to urge support for a constitutional amendment that aims to increase funding for public education, and in Hilo, about 20 people waved signs as morning commuters made their down Waianuenue Avenue.


Some drivers honked their horns as they passed. Others waved.

Matthew Yarberry, a world history teacher at Hilo High, said he considered Tuesday a dry run for an official walk-in on Oct. 23, “when we’re going to do this en masse.”

Yarberry said the group on Tuesday was “trying to raise awareness about voting in November on the constitutional amendment.”

The ballot measure will ask voters in November: “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education.”

Hawaii’s constitution currently provides that “all functions, powers and duties relating to the taxation of real property shall be exercised exclusively by the counties … .”

If the amendment passes, the constitution would be appended to allow the Legislature to establish a surcharge on investment real property. The constitution would be further amended to read, “Funding of public education shall be determined by the Legislature; provided that revenues derived from a surcharge on investment real property pursuant to section 3 of article VIII shall be used to support public education.”

The change, however, leaves it up to a future Legislature to set the amount of the surcharge, define what constitutes “investment real property,” and decide what would qualify to “support public education.”

Proponents of the constitutional amendment have argued schools in Hawaii are not properly funded — that, when adjusted for the cost of living, teachers are the lowest paid in the nation, and the state is amongst the lowest in per-pupil spending. They contend that the measure will only impact second homes over $1 million.

Opponents of the measure, however, have said the amendment’s wording is vague and won’t limit the Legislature’s taxing authority only to second homes valued over $1 million, nor does it guarantee that the money would get to the state Department of Education, students, teachers or classrooms.

Language allowing the Legislature to establish a surcharge on residential investment properties valued at more than $1 million, along with visitor accommodations, was included in an early draft of Senate Bill 2922, but not in the final version of the bill.

“This is about fairness for the people and for the kids, our keiki,” Yarberry said of the measure. “Our keiki deserve this.”

Mireille Ellsworth, an English and acting teacher at Waiakea High School, joined her fellow educators Tuesday before work.

“It’s amazing how many people don’t know about it,” said Ellsworth. “We’re really concerned about the fact that if people leave it blank, it’s going to be a ‘no’ vote. So we really want to get that word out.”

Special education teacher Liz Laliberte said it was important to be out Tuesday because schools have been “chronically underfunded for many years.”

“The state of Hawaii is losing teachers en masse, and we’re desperate to fill about 1,000 teaching positions, and it’s because our schools aren’t funded properly,” she said. “I think this is a huge opportunity for us as a state to meet that budget shortfall in a way that doesn’t harm the lowest-earning population of the state. We’re asking people who can afford to pay a little bit more every year to contribute back to the public education system, which is going to benefit everybody.”

Parent Jennifer Kagiwada also showed her solidarity, holding a sign in support of the measure Tuesday alongside teachers.

“We’ve been trying for years to get more funding for public schools, and this is the first time the people get a chance to vote on it,” she said. “This is it. This is our chance. If we don’t do this now, I don’t see what’s going to be done to support funding for education.”

With a daughter in 10th grade at Hilo High and a son in eighth grade at Hilo Intermediate, Kagiwada said she is an advocate of public education and supports the teachers and schools.

“I heard last night that they were going to be doing this, and I felt like I could at least come out here and stand out here for 30 minutes and support them,” she said.

Hilo attorney Lincoln Ashida, who sits on the board of both the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaii — two groups that oppose the ballot measure — said, however, the proposed constitutional amendment would affect everyone who owns property in Hawaii.

As worded, the measure applies to any investment property, so, “if you own anything besides your home, it’s fair game, and it’s taxable,” he said.

“We fully support public education and teachers. That’s not the issue here. The issue is this is a bad bill, a bad proposal,” Ashida said. Support for education “can come via other means, other legislation that is much better crafted than this particular measure.”


A Hawaii State Teachers Association spokesman said walk-ins will be held at more schools around the state on Oct. 16, with additional schools perhaps participating on another date after that.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. KonaDude October 3, 2018 2:35 am

    More money for administrators, yah!!

  2. guest October 3, 2018 3:47 am

    Vote NO!

  3. Big ideas October 3, 2018 6:22 am

    Fire some of your over paid Administrators and open up school vouchers if you really care about educating kids. We also don’t need to spend 100s of thousands of dollars on sports teams. Stick to the classroom and get back to teaching basics..kids drop out and fail standardized tests at alarming rates.

    1. Rock108 October 4, 2018 12:54 am

      School teacher who happens to co-own investment property here….ok, I’ll bite:
      1) Fire administrators? That’s the superintendents’ job. They are paid more than the principals.
      2) School vouchers? You want taxpayers to pay to send poor kids to HPA? Public school bus fare is $270 a year, and that’s within the district! Small potatoes though: HPA charges over $20,000 per high school kid per year, so if you wanted to help out 100 promising ones, that would cost millions.
      3) Spending hundreds of thousands for sports teams? My varsity coach had me work for about 100 hours on concessions to pay for our tournaments. I’ve seen good wrestlers unable to compete in tournaments because they didn’t have the money to get there. My cousin went through school because he enjoyed being part of the football team so sports help some kids earn a diploma, even though they don’t like the academics.
      4) Yes, I am in the classroom teaching the basics, while there are so many long-term substitute teachers in our school, our administrators are getting nervous because they are running out of classroom coverage! And you want to fire them? Gee……
      5) Ok, US News says that Hawaii is in 29th place educationally. That isn’t great, but better than the 46th place that it was when I started teaching. Our kids are getting better, not worse.
      In closing, I agree with you and the other commentators that this is an imperfect solution to the age-old problem of finding money for education. I didn’t like it in the beginning either. But in my eyes, it’s better than begging from the legislature every four years. I suppose it would be better to make a rule to put aside 15% of the state budget for education, but that may be sadly unrealistic. Voting yes means teachers don’t have to be beggars.

      1. Big ideas October 4, 2018 9:37 am

        1) OK I’ll bite – reduce the # of Superintendents AND Principals…. we agree!

        2) School vouchers are a stipend that allow parents the CHOICE of educating at non public schools..or homeschool. If it doesn’t cover your example of one of the most expensive schools in the State – it may cover enough for a parent to makeup the difference OR send to a less expensive alternative private school. You pick the worst case example and present it as the norm….clever but not truthful.

        3) Your conclusion is shallow. It’s about priorities. Education industry laments about lack of funding. I would think you would want to prioritize classroom spending and not astroturf and night football games. If it’s about books not balls then spend that way. I say this as someone who got a D1 football scholarship. I would have found a way to go regardless or sports.

        4) “our administrators are getting nervous because they are running out of classroom coverage”
        You make my case; prioritize classroom spending to hire full time teachers not football coaches and management overhead.

        5) I am NOT in favor of giving Government (or quasi Government entities i.e Unions) a blank check without any means to reel it back if performance slides. Our Government is based on checks and balances. Without this oversight you get runaway spending like the Oahu rail system. Hawaii has a tragic record of financial management at the Count Cit and State level. Why reward it with a blank check.

  4. FYI October 3, 2018 7:40 am

    Almost everyone supports public education. However, this bill is very flawed. It’s too vague. Why is DOE so quiet on this and not fighting for it? Whereas teachers fighting for it but there’s no guarantee they’ll see the benefits of it. Lots more other reasons too. Vote NO to ConAm!!

  5. JTTRI October 3, 2018 1:09 pm


  6. CongressWorksForUs October 3, 2018 2:58 pm

    Proof that none of these people should be teaching our young ‘uns.

    Teachers — you’ll see NONE of this money; the legislature will simply move the expenditures currently in the State General Fund used for education to this new money and spend the original money SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    Ask ANY mainland state that has gone through the same thing how it worked out for them. Spoiler: It DIDN’T.

    You’re just pawns, and not very smart pawns at that.

    1. Rock108 October 4, 2018 1:10 am

      You are the answer to our dilemma. While we cretins teach, brilliant observers like yourself watch our struggles from afar. How can administrators lure someone of your mental caliber into our classrooms? If you say they don’t pay enough, would more money help?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.