Frustrated teachers give their union a failing grade

Published: Jun. 30, 2011 at 6:25 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 1, 2011 at 1:58 PM HST
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Bryantt Bernardo, Special Education Teacher
Bryantt Bernardo, Special Education Teacher
Tanya Hall, 5th Grade Teacher
Tanya Hall, 5th Grade Teacher

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – It is summer break but special education teacher Bryantt Bernardo is in his Moanalua Middle School classroom catching up on paperwork.  He says most teachers routinely put in extra hours for free and he doesn't want to strike over a five percent pay cut.

"I think the biggest loser is the students as far as the strike. I am not sure if anybody wins," said Bernardo.

Could he live with a five percent pay cut?

"Maybe for now but I'm not sure as far as the long term," responded Bernardo.

The contract for public school teachers expires today.  Starting tomorrow the state is implementing its last, best and final offer, like it or not.

The changes on average mean the teachers will be making a few thousand dollars less a year.  Along with the five percent pay cut teachers will also have to pay 50 percent of their health benefits instead of 40 percent. The bonus for "hard to staff locations" will be cut in half from $3,000 to $1,500.

"A strike is actually kind of scary to me. I'd hate to start the year off in a strike," said Kim Koga, an art teacher at Moanalua Middle School, who is teaching summer school.  "It makes me scared that other things are taking priority now instead of education."

With nearly 13,000 teachers in the state there are plenty of views and not all agree with their union.

"I'm fine with a five percent pay cut. That's fine we all have to do our part," said Tanya Hall, a 5th grade teacher with Lanakila Elementary, who has been teaching from 14 years.

Hall says she's most angry with how the current contract situation has been handled because instead of hearing about the details from the union, she was notified by the state.  She wishes she could use the nearly $700 in union dues for her family instead.

"I think what's most frustrating is that we are mandated to pay these union dues to a union that is not really representing the full membership of the teachers," said Hall.

She also finds it suspicious the Hawaii State Teachers Association President is at a conference on the mainland instead of being in town talking with members or the Department of Education.

"We don't have a choice. You have to be a part of the union. They automatically take the union dues out of your paycheck you have no choice. But I know there are many many teachers who feel the union is just not connected to the union members and (union leaders) just do what they want to get done and they don't really fight for the right things. So that's another frustrating thing that turns your stomach when it comes to our union," said Hall.

Other teachers also expressed their frustrations that the HSTA has kept them in the dark and failed to respond to inquiries.

"It's disappointing the union I am required to pay dues to can consistently send me emails with coupons for free burritos and discounts to Disneyland but has yet to respond to even ONE of the numerous phone calls and emails I have sent them over the past few years with contract related questions and concerns," said Danielle Mizuta, a special education teacher at Kailua Elementary, in a email.  "Superintendent Matayoshi's statement that, "The substantial work at the bargaining table has been collaborative and professional." confuses me.  If Superintendent Matayoshi and/or the Union thought to 'collaborate' with the teachers in the classrooms I think it's fair to say most of us would not have 'collaborated' the two days before school started as, "non-instructional days that you will not work and for which you will not be paid."  Because teachers care about their professions and the students they educate, the recent events have been disheartening."

She is referring to July 28 and 29 which are the two days before the new school year starts but are considered non-work days.

HSTA President Wil Okabe was not available to speak on camera but he did send out the following email to all members:

"We understand the precarious position teachers are in and we want to assure you that we will continue to work with all parties through these difficult times.

By now, you have received the superintendent's letter to teachers about her plan to implement her bargaining proposal on July 1, 2011.

HSTA is currently working to get the best contract we can for our members.  Please continue to watch your e-mail or check our Web site for any official word, not just what is printed in the newspaper or broadcast on television.  We will keep you abreast on significant activities that impact negotiations.

Teachers care.  Teachers deserve to be respected and acknowledged for all the work they do for the children of Hawaii."

There was no mention of a strike vote or lawsuit in the letter.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.