Teachers explain their vote, worry about grant money
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Some of Hawaii's public school teachers say they have lost faith in leadership at the Hawaii State Teacher's Association while others worry their rejection of a proposed new six year contract with the state further jeopardizes millions of dollars in federal grant money.
Thursday about 9,000 of the 12,500 teachers, counselors, and others who would have been covered by the contract voted on whether or not to accept it. Only 33% voted in favor of the deal while 67% voted against it.
Some of those in the majority who voted against ratifying the contract told us they have lost faith in union leadership.
"It doesn't seem like we were well represented. No offense, but I would like us to hire people who are trained in negotiations to represent us," said Daniel Mew, who teaches at Kawananakoa Middle School.
Some of those who voted in favor of the contract said they put their faith in the union's negotiating team. They reasoned that the negotiating team had examined the issues and unanimously agreed the contract was fair.
The contract would have frozen wages until July, 2013. Teachers who scored well in performance reviews would then be eligible for pay raises, but the criteria on which they would be judged has not yet been established and therefore was not spelled out in the contract proposal.
The lack of specific criteria was an obstacle for some of those who voted against the deal.
Kawananakoa Middle School teacher Brian Yamagata asked, "The testing right now is only reading and math and I teach science, so am I going to be held accountable to the reading and math scores?"
Mew, who teaches music added, "How are we being evaluated? I mean, you have elective teachers, (like) myself. We have a totally different type of assessment compared to the English teacher, the math teacher."
Some of those who voted "yes" say the proposed merit system was okay because the union would have had a hand in crafting it.
"So this was the first time we were going to get to be in on that and have some say in it. And we already know they are somehow going to include test scores," said Inga Park Okuna, a counselor at Kalihi Uka Elementary School.
"Evaluations are always a good thing because they give you a chance to improve and it's going to push us to strive more for the benefit of our students," added Tara Hasegawa, a teacher at Kalihi Uka.
Hawaii public schools have received about four million of dollars in grant money from the federal "Race to the Top" program. But on December 21, 2011 U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote Governor Abercrombie saying Hawaii performance has been "unsatisfactory."
He wrote, "… we are placing Hawaii's race to the top grant on high-risk status."
Duncan has not commented yet on the teachers rejecting the contract proposal, but there is growing concern the lack of an agreement jeopardizes the remaining $71-million in grant money.
"I'm very concerned about that money because that money brought in resources that we don't have, that we can't afford in this economy. And now we may lose that," Park Okuna said.
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