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Lahaina teachers hold protest

By Staff | Dec 20, 2012

Teachers at King Kamehameha III Elementary School held a demonstration last week Thursday afternoon to raise public awareness on their contract.

LAHAINA – Teachers in the Lahaina Complex and around the state are holding demonstrations to protest cuts in benefits and the state administration’s “lack of respect” for educators, Justin Hughey said.

Organized by Hughey, teachers at King Kamehameha III Elementary held their second demonstration in front of the school last week Thursday.

Holding signs that said “Teachers Taking A Stand” and “Fair Deal for Teachers & Students,” staff lined the sidewalk along Front Street after school ended at 2 p.m. Pedestrians voiced support, and motorists passing by honked their horns.

“I’m just living paycheck to paycheck,” said Art Teacher Stephanie Schobel.

She posed a question to working people in all professions: would you like to work an hour-and-a-half minimum every day for no pay?

Teachers face this situation plus seven “Directed Leave Without Pay” days this school year.

Schobel said teachers put in extra hours because they love their job and the children, but the state is taking advantage of them.

Fourth Grade Teacher Karen Pascual, who has taught at King Kamehameha III School for 20 years, has seen teachers file for bankruptcy and take on second jobs.

Several teachers at the demonstration said the state has long shown a lack of understanding and respect for educators.

Pascual said the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) union went on strike under Gov. Ben Cayetano, faced furloughs under Gov. Linda Lingle and have had their pay cut – coupled with significantly higher contributions to medical coverage, now at 50 percent – under Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

She is concerned about a proposal to tie teachers’ performance evaluations to students’ test scores, as many outside factors, such as English language proficiency, can impact scores.

Kindergarten Teacher Angela Duby asked, “What other profession requires a degree and gets paid as low?”

She graduated three years ago and hasn’t begun paying back student loans.

Duby said “teachers are struggling.” She can’t afford medical coverage for her children, who are enrolled in the Hawaii Quest Program.

After a 20-year career, Jeannie Gonzalez retired from teaching at King Kamehameha III School in June. She remains a HSTA member as a retired teacher.

She said teachers are “constantly asked to do and be more” by the state.

Educators “hung in” through the worst of the recession, Gonzalez added, then saw their compensation cut.

Gonzalez said teachers “have so much heart” and work hard at their jobs.

The current contract for Hawaii teachers includes the equivalent of a 5 percent wage reduction, equal contribution for health care premiums and increased preparation time during the school week.

In a Dec. 3 update on the State of Hawaii website, the administration stated: “The ‘last, best and final offer’ is reflective of the sacrifices being made by most employees of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, their non-union co-workers, government executives, legislators and judges. All are taking a 5 percent wage reduction and paying an equal share of health care premiums to avoid disruptions to government services caused by ‘Furlough Fridays.’ “

HSTA has a pending complaint before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. Union officials are also slated to return to negotiations with the state on Jan. 11, 2013.

The state’s position and timeline of negotiations is detailed at governor.hawaii.gov/hawaiis-public-school-teachers/. To learn more about the HSTA’s stance, visit www.ContractForTheFuture.org.

Hughey said teachers around Hawaii are pushing back by working their scheduled hours only.

Fourth grade Teacher Dorisa Pelletier said teachers routinely put in extra hours calling parents, grading papers, planning subjects, reading mail, preparing paperwork and other tasks. They do not receive overtime pay.

Teachers plan to hold regular public awareness demonstrations. Larger protests with teachers from Lahaina schools are planned.

“We’re getting great response from the community,” said Hughey, a second grade Special Education teacher.

Teachers don’t want to strike and lose the time and money invested in the Hawaii Labor Relations Board complaint process, he added.

Between the pay cut for ten months of employment, unpaid leave, increase in medical costs and inflation, “it’s not a livable wage,” argued Hughey, who is active in politics and serves as the platform chair for the Democratic State Central Committee.

Pelletier said her medical costs doubled under the current contract.

“It’s tough with the cost of living,” she commented.