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Published in Print: May 2, 2001, as Teachers Return to Classrooms As Strike Ends in Hawaii

Teachers Return to Classrooms As Strike Ends in Hawaii

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Hawaii's public school teachers returned to their classrooms last week, having bargained with the state for sizable raises and bonuses in a deal struck hours before a federal judge made good on a promise to intervene.

Educators overwhelmingly ratified the $98.1 million contract on April 23, though they had picketed right up until voting began, said Danielle L. Lum, a spokeswoman for the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association.

"This is a very good package," Ms. Lum said. "Not only does it compensate teachers, but it lays the groundwork for education reform."

The 19-day strike, begun April 5 in conjunction with a walkout by university professors, was described as the most extensive action of its kind in the history of American public education. The two strikes effectively shut down the state education system from kindergarten through graduate school.

In a statement, Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano, a Democrat, called the agreement with the teachers "fiscally responsible" and assured constituents that the state could pay for the pact without raising taxes or repealing past tax cuts.

"Our teachers will receive a significant pay raise that includes excellent incentives for additional pay increases based on professional development," he said. "Most importantly, our children will reap the benefits of having teachers who continue to refine their skills and talents throughout their careers."

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents 3,100 professors, had settled with the state the previous week. Both unions' contracts expired coincidentally in the summer of 1999. ("Teacher Strike Across Hawaii Enters Week 3," April 25, 2001.)

The compromise agreement between the state and the teachers' union includes a 20 percent across-the-board pay raise for teachers over the next two years. Under the plan, beginning teachers will make $34,294, up from $29,204, while teachers at the top of the salary schedule will earn $64,202, up from $58,000.

Teachers will also receive one-time "retention bonuses" of $2,200 for work they completed over the past two years, rather than retroactive pay as union leaders had called for.

Both issues led to the deadlock that prolonged the strike.

Initially, leaders of the National Education Association affiliate argued that a 22 percent pay increase over four years was needed to attract and keep teachers in the scenic but isolated state. They emphasized that Hawaii's cost of living significantly outpaces that of most other parts of the country, at a time when teacher shortages loom.

Gov. Cayetano, however, offered a 14 percent pay hike over the last two years of the contract. He cited a need to weigh school spending against the state's other financial responsibilities. The state's single, 180,000-student K-12 school system is especially subject to competition with other public interests for money because it is financed through income and excise taxes rather than by dedicated property taxes, as is the common practice on the mainland.

The new contract also includes $5,000 bonuses for teachers who obtain certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and a battery of new programs designed to aid teachers in their practice and ratchet up accountability.

For example, the state education department will implement a mentoring program for beginning teachers and provide peer help for those at all experience levels. The package also mandates that the state overhaul the teacher-evaluation system and rewrite performance standards used in teacher licensing.

Had the union and the state not come to a resolution, U.S. District Judge David Ezra would surely have intervened, said Shelby Anne Floyd, a lawyer who represents special education students. The strike was interfering with a federal court order requiring the state to provide improved services to children with special needs.

Vol. 20, Issue 33, Page 20

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