DOE seeks feedback on teacher compensation

HILO — Attention is turning to teacher pay.

The state Department of Education announced Wednesday it will host a series of listening sessions to gather feedback to “refine and potentially recommend changes to the teacher compensation system.”

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On the Big Island, the sessions will be held 4-5:30 p.m. and 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, in the Keaau High School cafeteria.

“Behind every student’s successes are dedicated educators who innovate, collaborate and challenge our students to exceed expectations,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a DOE news release. “It is critical that our compensation system supports our ability to attract and retain the highest level of talent. Our community’s feedback is an important part of ensuring that any necessary refinements are done right.”

Those who are unable to attend a listening session, including parents and community members, can offer feedback through an online survey, which will be open Sept. 23-Oct. 6. To take the survey, visit bit.ly/2mgVFx7.

Department spokeswoman Lindsay Chambers said ideally, the sessions will help inform appropriate decision-makers as they consider compensation options for the state’s teachers.

“The Hawaii DOE, through these listening sessions and the online survey, is looking for ideas that could be brand new, or perhaps an innovative modification on the existing compensation system,” she said.

“We’re glad it’s finally happening,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, a union representing 13,700 public and charter school teachers across Hawaii.

Teachers in Hawaii have long known that when their salaries are adjusted for the cost of living, “we’re the lowest paid teachers in the nation,” he said. That has led to a teacher shortage crisis in the state.

Rosenlee said last year, more than 1,000 positions were not filled by a qualified teacher, which meant about 60,000 students daily would go to school and have at least one teacher who was not qualified.

Since 2012, the number of teachers leaving the state has increased by 70 percent, he said.

“So we know that Hawaii is not competitive when it comes to teacher salaries,” said Rosenlee.

Rosenlee said it’s great that the DOE is hosting the listening sessions. It shows the department “does believe we need to look at teacher salaries” and get teacher feedback.

State lawmakers have tried to address education funding and teacher retention in the past.

In 2018, a proposed constitutional amendment would have permitted the state Legislature to establish a surcharge on investment real property in support of public education, but the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the proposed amendment did not meet requirements that amendments be clear and not misleading.

Earlier this year, two state Senate bills that called for the creation of a housing voucher program for teachers employed by the DOE or at public charter schools died in the House.

The upcoming listening sessions are open to the public, and all interested community members and educators, including school leaders, teachers, instructional staff, administrators, students and staff, are encouraged to offer input.

Sessions will also be held Sept. 23-24 on Oahu and Sept. 25 on Maui.

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The listening sessions and subsequent analysis will be conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, a third-party consultant, to ensure objectivity, the DOE said.

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

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