Hawaii Board of Education Passes Pay Hikes for Special Ed, Hawaiian Language, Rural Teachers

Dec 6, 2019

The Hawaii Board of Education passed a proposal Thursday that would increase the pay for teachers in special education, hard-to-fill areas and Hawaiian language immersion.

The increases are backed by Gov. David Ige and is an effort by the state administration and the Hawaii Department of Education to recruit and retain teachers in critical areas where teacher shortages have been persistent.

The proposal would give special education teachers a $10,000 annual pay increase. Rural teachers would receive up between $3,000 and $8,000 on a tiered system based on schools meeting certain criteria. Hawaiian immersion teachers would receive $8,000 yearly as well.

The estimated cost of the entire proposal: $14.6 million.

The board hopes state legislators will approve the salary increases as part of the governor’s supplemental budget, but committed to fund the increases regardless.

Christina Kishimoto, Department of Education superintendent, explained that if the department must allocate funds for the measure, it would not cut any school programs.

“We have looked at various versions that we could present to the board to meet this obligation,” she said. “We would have to look at not only maximizing from salary savings, but also looking at non-school impacts.”

Board Chair Catherine Payne echoed Kishimoto's comments.

“It will not come from school-level programs -- it will come from state office restrictions,” she said. “It will come from other areas that will certainly affect support services at the highest level, but not affect school funding.”

Board members Nolan Kawano and Kenneth Uemura noted that the education department is constitutionally mandated to promote Hawaiian “language, culture and history.” Both advocated for the increases to be made part of the department’s existing operating budget rather than be subject to review by the Legislature, where approval may not be certain. 

“I’m looking at this pay differential, not as part of the recruitment strategy,” Kawano said. “I'm looking at this pay differential as something we have to do.”

Both board members also called for the Hawaiian language immersion teacher pay bump to be equal to that for special education teachers. They also wanted the board to look at implementing an adjustment factor for inflation.

However, Kishimoto warned that asking for too much could stymie progress instead of further it.

“There is a bigger goal here and if we start with that, this could potentially end with that conversation because it starts to look unwieldy, too big, undoable,” she said. “I am looking to have a very do-able proposal that is very difficult to argue against.”

The board passed the proposal on a 7-2 vote. Board member Dwight Takeno and Uemura voted against it.

Takeno wanted to see Kishimoto’s funding plan before he could approve of the increases.

“I fully support this proposal, I want this to go forward,” Takeno said. “But I think having doing it without understanding the implication of the money not coming in and what programs we would have to touch, I think might be a little premature.”

Lenore “Momi” Vincent, a preschool special education teacher of 24 years, could not help, but cry tears of joy when the board passed the measure.

“When I’m with [my students], I have to give them all of my time so I take my work home. If we have a shortage, we have to help the other teachers” she said. “Now, maybe we will have more help and we can devote more time to our students and our families.”

If approved, the pay increases for teachers would go into effect on Jan. 7, 2020.