Pay Hikes for Special Ed, Hawaiian Language, Rural School Teachers Start On Tuesday

Jan 6, 2020

Pay increases for public school teachers in hard-to-fill positions, including those for special education, rural areas and Hawaiian language immersion, start on Tuesday.

The initiative gives special education teachers a $10,000 annual pay increase. Rural teachers would receive between $3,000 and $8,000 on a tiered system based on schools meeting certain criteria. Hawaiian immersion teachers would receive an additional $8,000 yearly.

The pay differentials will cost the Hawaii Department of Education $14.6 million.

Kerry Tom, director of the department’s Office of Talent Management, said the salary initiative is intended to address the challenge of filling teaching jobs in rural schools and certain subject areas.

“Especially on the outer islands, they just need more teachers out there,” he said. “When you're a special education teacher, you have to ... provide a quality education for the student -- you're doing individualized education plans, you have to take statistics and data on your students’ progress.”

Ric Ornellas, a special education teacher at Moloka'i High School, said he often works beyond school time.

“I’m spending my private time on the weekend, doing what I need to do, because it’s so important,” he said. “It’s very significant to work with students with disabilities, but people don’t realize how extremely complicated and demanding it is to build and comply with the suitable needs and ... legal requirements.”

Moloka'i High School is also a school where teacher jobs are difficult to fill because of its location.

“For years, we’ve gone without this differential and it’s really a conscious decision that we made [to teach on Moloka'i],” Ornellas said. “I could make way more money if I was teaching in O'ahu with way more resources but we’re really making that commitment to our communities.”

The Hawaii Board of Education hopes state legislators will approve the salary increases as part of Gov. David Ige's supplemental budget, but it is committed to funding the increases regardless.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said if the department must allocate funds for the initiative from its existing resources, 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.”