A ‘time bomb’ waiting to happen: New figures highlight critical shortage of special ed teachers

Teachers sound alarms over worsening shortage
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Nov. 15, 2018 at 6:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A shortage of special education teachers in Hawaii is worsening.

That’s according to the newest numbers from the state Education Department

There are more than 2,200 special education teacher positions at Hawaii public schools, but about 500 positions are filled with teachers who don’t have special education credentials.

“This is a time bomb waiting for a lawsuit to occur because we know that we cannot provide services unless we have enough special education teachers,” said teachers union president Corey Rosenlee, during a presentation to the Board of Education on Thursday.

“It’s tough and we are kind of riding on knife’s edge of financial and security,” added Anthony McCurdy, a special education teacher at Campbell High School who moved from a small New Jersey school district two years ago.

His largest class size has 17 kids when he’d prefer it to be eight to 10.

"I would say some of the biggest issues that we face are not having enough teachers, we have overcrowded classrooms, we have too many students especially for special ed and that's really tough to deal with sometimes," said McCurdy.

A Hawaii State Teachers Association analysis shows Hawaii teachers earn $1,300 to $30,000 less than counterparts with similar qualifications and in districts with similar cost of living.

“We know that when we compare our salaries just to competitive districts right around the ten year mark is when we are really losing half of our teachers,” Rosenlee said.

Even though the DOE is losing ground in its bid to attract and retain teachers, schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto says she’s committed to addressing the shortage with short and long-term solutions.

"We will do this together. This is both a recruitment and retention issue. On the recruitment side, our pipeline is absolutely leaking,' she said.

HSTA hopes to change the pay structure from step increases to increases by years of service, like many other mainland districts. That would cost $50 to $60 million for 5,000 teachers.

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