An Insulting Teachers Contract

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - May 09, 2007

See last Thursday’s Star-Bulletin? On the front page of the paper a box carried the “contract highlights” of the new two-year accord between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state:

“Four percent raises in each of the next two school years that will bring the starting teacher salary to $43,157, up from $39,901.”

Nice. To be sure, not enough considering the explosion in the prices of housing, gasoline, and food during the term of the last contract - increases so large that increasingly only the plutocracy can live here - but nice nonetheless.

“An additional step increase that will give most teachers an extra 3 percent raise in the second semester.”

Ah, that’s better. Still not good enough, but better.

“A 25 percent supplementary pay raise each year for teachers who serve as band directors or drama coaches or in other programs.”

Sure. Those long rehearsal hours do deserve compensation.

“A $3,000-a-year differential for licensed teachers working in Waianae, Nanakuli, and Keaau, Big Island.”

Tough teaching. Gotta do something to keep folks down in those deep trenches.

Oh, and one other thing. “Random and reasonable-suspicion testing for alcohol and drugs beginning in the 2008-2009 school year.”

So on Miss Souza’s first day of school, she’ll collect her classroom key, her key to the faculty lounge, and her class lists. As she’s about to leave the office, vice principal Pang stops her: “Miss Souza, before you go. Would you please step into the ladies room and fill this little bottle with a urine sample? Nothing personal, you understand. Just part of our random drug-testing program. It’s mandated by the contract, you know.”

Yep. We did it. We gave the state’s teachers a contract that recognized their professionalism with a pay scale that will reward the most senior among them with salaries of more than $79,000 per year. Then we slapped them aside the head and mandated treatment fit only for prison parolees.

What’s going on here? Symbolic politics, that’s what. In the wake of six drug-related arrests of DOE employees within the last eight months, state negotiators inserted the drug-testing provision in the contract.

Somehow state negotiators felt that six miscreants out of 13,500 Department of Education employees gave them license to insult Hawaii’s entire teacher corps.

Understand, six users out of 13,500 employees does not a drug epidemic make. But the state negotiators, in their essential disrespect for Hawaii’s schoolteachers, forced them to accept drug testing in order to receive their wage increases.

To the teachers’ credit, they hesitated - and 3,228 of them, almost 40 percent of those who voted, said “no” to having their civil rights compromised in exchange for salary raises.

Now bear in mind, Hawaii hardly joins a growing national trend here. According to HSTA executive director Joan Husted, only a “handful” of school districts around the country require drug testing, and none call for random drug testing. So Hawaii’s going to be in the vanguard here. Doesn’t it make you feel proud?

Our schoolteachers hold college degrees: baccalaureates, master’s degrees, even a smattering of doctorates. Many of them have passed up more lucrative and easier lines of work in order to teach. They work in hot, overcrowded classrooms with students distracted by iPods, cellphones, television, the Internet and raging hormones.

Many of Hawaii’s students come from families in which English is not the first language. Others come from single-parent families or families that struggle with poverty and homelessness.

Whatever the students’ situations at home, Hawaii’s public schoolteachers are expected to educate them.

Indeed, they’re expected to educate them under immense pressure: from state performance standards laid down by the Department of Education, and by measures of progress laid down by the imbecilic, test-ridden No Child Left Behind federal legislation.

So what do we as a community say to them?

“Step into the ladies’ room, Miss Silva, and fill this little bottle with urine. We think you may be a druggie.”

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