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Thousands of Hawai‘i Public School Teachers March to Demand Better Pay

Public school teachers and supporters march for a livable paycheck.


Hawaii public school teachers march inside the Hawaii state capitol.

Photo: David Croxford


Thousands of teachers union members, family and friends converged on the Capitol on Feb. 13 to voice their support for a more substantial pay bump than the one being offered by the state. Fortunate in the weather, which was dry, if voggy, Hawai‘i State Teachers Association president Corey Rosenlee spoke about the plight of teachers forced to work second jobs to supplement their salary, which ranks at the bottom for the nation, once Hawai‘i’s high cost of living is taken into account. The HSTA has proposed a constitution amendment to tax hotel rooms and second homes to fund salary increases in this year’s contract negotiations. The HSTA estimated that a crowd of 6,000 marched several blocks from Blaisdell Center to the State Capitol.


“We need to start paying our teachers better. We need to make sure that every child, regardless of where they live, has a quality teacher in their classroom,” said Rosenlee. O‘ahu’s public schools were closed for a teacher training day.


Sen, Michelle Kidani at HSTA march.

Photo: David Croxford


State Sen. Michelle Kidani, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, addressed the crowd and said, “We want our legislators to know that we mean business!”


“Thank you for fighting the good fight. It is about our children. Let us not forget that!” added Kidani, who introduced HSTA’s constitutional amendment proposals in the State Senate.


HSTA march for a substantial pay bump.

Photo: David Croxford


What sparked the controversial idea of a pay raise by initiative was the state’s first offer in the ongoing contract negotiations: a 1-percent bonus, which would not accrue to a teacher’s salary. The average $550 for a mid-career teacher was more than offset by increased medical contributions, in effect turning the “bonus” into a pay cut. Many in the HSTA and Legislature found this less than edifying, coming as it did on the heels of Gov. David Ige’s state of the state address and frequent repetition of his enthusiasm for innovation in education.


The average mid-career teacher in Hawai‘i, says Rosenlee, is underpaid by $10,000 to $25,000 in comparison to teachers in 10 comparable Mainland districts.   


On the other hand, some critics of the proposed amendment fear it could open the door to similar initiatives by other public sector unions. Others worry that, if such an amendment is passed, the revenues could be raided for other projects by the Legislature.  


Read More Stories by Don Wallace


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Honolulu Magazine April 2017
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