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More pay for veteran Hawaiʻi teachers leads to several 'unretirements'

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Chris Schubert
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Several Hawaiʻi public school teachers have come out of retirement after the Legislature and state approved millions in teacher compensation. Some educators could see annual salary increases of up to $26,000.

"I'm gonna move five steps. That's a lot. I'm moving up five steps, that tells you where it was in comparison to where I should have been," said Mike Hino, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Molokai Middle School.

After a 25-year career, Hino submitted his retirement papers with the state Department of Education in May. But today, he is delaying his retirement because of a provision in the newly approved state budget.

Gov. David Ige approved a revised state budget earlier this month. The new budget earmarks $130 million to restore paid professional development hours for teachers, and address what is known as salary compression.

Teacher salaries would stall at a certain point in their career, even though years of service should have moved them up the state's pay scale.

The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association held an "unretirement" ceremony Monday to celebrate the approval of the new budget — fixing salary compression for teachers.

Roughly 8,600 public school teachers will each receive between $7,700 and $26,000 more in their annual salary.

"One of the things that we have always said is, if we have the means to do it, we're gonna do it. And this year, we had the means to do it," said Sylvia Luke, House finance committee chair. "Compression relief, it's not just about money — it's about respect."

Lawmakers and advocates anticipate salary boosts will slow the rate of teacher retirement and help retain veteran teachers in public schools.

According to DOE data, teacher retirement rose 33% between the 2019-2020 school year — worsening the teacher shortage that plagued the state prior to 2020. This was likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The department is expected to release updated retirement and staffing numbers later this year.

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Hawaii State Teachers Association
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Ashley Olson of Lahainaluna High School speaks at the National Education Associations Representative Assembly convention and annual meeting.

But as the state eases out of the pandemic, teacher pay has continued to be an outstanding issue. In addition to the state's high cost of living, inflation and other external factors are impacting residents' wallets harder than before.

For teachers like Ashley Olson of Lahainaluna High School, the pay raise eases the stress of making ends meet. She says like many teachers, she had to work a second or third job. For several years, she worked at a Starbucks after school.

"My managers were amazing because I would literally have students coming in to ask for help on their homework," she said. "They knew that I was at work. They'd come in, they'd grab a frappuccino, and ask me questions about their homework, the lesson, the test coming up. But I'd really rather have a study session at the food court instead of at my other job."

Olson says working other jobs outside of teaching also takes an emotional and physical toll on individuals.

But more importantly, the pay raises also provide a better work-life balance.

"That's a huge benefit ... to be able to say, 'OK, I can focus on my one main job of teaching, and focus on my family and have time for them as well,'" said Terry Holck, a state resource teacher with 31 years of experience. "Maybe now they can take a family trip. Maybe now teachers can have time to set aside to spend with their loved ones versus going and taking a shower and running to the second job."

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Hawaii State Teachers Association
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Terry Holck

But for many teachers, the raise is recognition of the efforts and hours spent helping students outside of normal school hours.

"There is never a teacher whose job starts at 7:45 and ends at 3. We're working 24/7, 365 days a year — even though you only get paid for 10 months," Holck said.

In addition to the higher take-home paycheck, teachers will also benefit in their retirement plans. State workers are compensated based on their top three years of earnings.

Teachers like Hino and Holck will be able to reach the top of their pay scales.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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