Veteran public school teachers could get a big one-time salary increase

Updated: Jan. 17, 2020 at 5:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school teachers with more than 10 years of experience could get a one-time salary boost in the coming school year — if the state comes up with the money.

It’s a salary step adjustment to make up for times when the state didn’t fund raises during economic downturns.

“Those are mostly teachers who have been in for 20 years who are now not able to live in Hawaii because of the cost of living,” said Bea DeRego-Coffield, a test coordinator and English teacher at Kahuku High and Intermediate School since 1997.

According to the Hawaii State Teachers Association, public school teachers can only get increased pay for years of service if the raises are negotiated with the state.

“The salaries had been frozen in previous years because the state was in a difficult financial situation,” said state School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.

That was mainly during the Great Recession between 2009 and 2011, affecting anyone with more than seven years of teaching experience in Hawaii.

“We fast-forward and we find that teachers who are the most experienced are getting paid at the same rate of our less experienced teachers. And so we’ve created this compression within our salary schedule,” said Kishimoto.

“So this is to try to go back and at least correct some of the wrong,” said DeRego-Coffield. “It doesn’t mean anybody will get back pay, but it does mean going forward, people will be healed.”

The HSTA estimates that annual pay for those veteran teachers should increase from $900 to $17,000, with the biggest increases for teachers with more than 22 years of experience.

“Having that pay scale adjusted for someone like myself who’s been in the profession 20 years would be nice,” said James “JJ” Cabralda, an early college coordinator at his alma mater, Leilehua High School. “But part of that, more importantly, is the retention aspect of it.”

“Let’s make sure we keep our high quality teachers here in Hawaii,” said Kishimoto. “Otherwise they’re going to opt to live somewhere else, not because they want to, but because they can’t afford to stay here.”

Roughly 7,000 public school teachers statewide could get the raises, which the DOE said could cost about $45 million for the next school year. The Legislature will need to approve the increase.

Kishimoto said the state should be able to afford that.

“We’re in a great financial state as a state as far as tax revenues, as far as the opportunity to really bring this back up, and to fund this appropriately to make sure that all of our classrooms have a certified, well-prepared, highly experienced teacher," she said.

DeRego-Coffield also had a response to those who believe the price tag is too high.

“I get irritated with those people because we’re talking about the keiki in Hawaii, and we’re talking about the future of Hawaii. And if we don’t have an educated citizenship going forward, then there’s a lot of dire effects,” she said.

But DeRego-Coffield also feels fortunate that the department is looking at the pay hike.

“I appreciate this,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve ever felt hope from the DOE, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

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