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Teacher shortage stems from systemic problems in the DOE

By Staff | May 5, 2016

Hawaii, we have a problem.

While enrollment in our public schools continues to rise, the projected vacancies for teachers in the state system also has increased – to an alarmingly high number of some 1,600 empty positions projected for this fall.

And the situation is further exasperated by the fumbling, bumbling Department of Education facilities sector that drags projects on for decades (i.e. Kihei High School) as our state-centralized governing/funding system – one of the only such dictatorships in the nation – continues to stumble along in its attempt to put a thumb in the dike to keep public education in Hawaii afloat.

The equation that explains this dire situation regarding the future of the education of coming generations of children here is simple, but the solution to the problem is far more complex. Of course, the key component is once again money.

Our teachers rank among the lowest paid in the nation, yet the cost of living in Hawaii is one of the highest. The basic elements – housing, food and medical care – are difficult to find or very expensive to maintain. Add culture shock to the mix, and it is not hard to understand why the young teachers that come here are leaving in droves.

So, the solution to the problem would be to pay our teachers more, right? Whoa there, paniolo – not so fast. Reel back to the aforementioned state-centralized public school governing system, research that dirty “F” word (FUNDING), and we find that – to this day – budget items like the Kihei High School are still in jeopardy due to constraints initiated by legislators on Oahu, and pay raises for teachers are non-existent. Add the Honolulu rail system into the honey jar with its billion dollar overrun currently on the blackjack table, and things get plenty sticky.

It would certainly help if there were support initiatives in place to help new teachers – both home-grown and Mainland recruits – find reasonable housing situations and mentors (former teachers and administrators) for lifestyle guidance here in the Islands. A prime example of this is the program initiated by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and led by retired Lahainaluna High School history teacher Andrew Kutsunai, which takes new teachers in the Lahaina Complex on guided, interactive tours of Old Lahaina Town. And former LHS English teacher Penny Wakida recently told me about teachers’ housing that existed on the historic campus years ago.

Tutoring programs such as Kumon and the Lahaina Complex After School Tutor Project, developed by former administrative educators Pat and Richard Endsley 15 years ago, are brilliant success endeavors, but they are naturally limited in scope.

The future integrity that is the rainbow of public education resides in the pot of gold in the big square building in Honolulu. More succinctly, we need to dedicate efforts to improve the landscape for educators in Hawaii to ensure a positive future for our children and grandchildren. Therefore, show us the money!