Letter to the Editor: Teacher Pay Cuts

April 27, 2020, 7:30 AM HST (Updated April 26, 2020, 11:11 PM)
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The following is a letter to the editor. It does not reflect the view of Big Island Now or its parent company, Pacific Media Group. It has not been edited for content. 

“Dear Hawai‘i,

Recently, the State of Hawai‘i announced to the Department of Education that teachers should be prepared for a 20% pay cut. The drastic reduction in pay would cripple an already broken education system and exasperate the teacher shortage. Teachers make up the largest pool of public service workers in the state and have traditionally been an easy target when shortfalls happen in the budget. Unfortunately, the current shut down to our economy means a loss of revenue for the state and a massive deficit in a budget that did not foresee such a calamity.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions, and leaders with the foresight and the fortitude to take on the established norms could see us through the storm and have us come out stronger on the other side.

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The following are ten emergency measures the state could take right now that would ensure there would be no pay cuts to teachers:

1. Cut the fat. We can think of the Department of Education like a body. The brain, organs, muscles, and bones are all parts of the body that, if missing, would be a problem. Without students and teachers, there is no school, so we will say the teachers are the muscles and bones, and they are there to support the students who are the brains and organs of the body.

Administration can be gone for weeks at a time without a blip on the radar in most schools, so we will call anyone who doesn’t have a daily class the fat. We should start by saying that fat is an essential part of the human body and without it, we would also have problems. Unfortunately, many of us are aware that too much fat can be a detriment to the body, so while we can’t completely cut it out, we can cut back and streamline the positions that have little to no student contact. Many of the positions in the DOE that fall under this category are making as much as three times as that of a first-year teacher.

2. Freeze all building improvements and facilities funding. Air conditioning, new buildings, sports facilities and grass are luxury items that should be held off until the state can steady its budget and get back on course. Schools receive funding for facilities and can not use them for anything else. This would have to be done through declarations of the state being under a natural disaster and instituting a temporary emergency order.

3. Freeze all school purchasing. Schools spend an enormous amount of money on curriculum, testing and replacing and updating technology. This year, schools were given a waiver on testing and with the right pressure, the tests could be waived for a few years to give states the chance to save the school system. Most of the canned curriculum and technology upgrades are tied to the need for data. It should be noted that data from the nation’s report card test called the NAPE was given in 2019 and revealed that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top had no positive effect on student learning. Despite clear evidence that high stakes tests do not work and have decimated the people’s view of our schools, we continue to move ahead, wasting money.

4. Lower the dropout age. Students who are 16 and older who don’t want to be in school should not be forced to stay. Many of the DOE classes are filled with students that do not want to be there, so they spend their time being disruptive and defiant. Give these students the chance to join the real world, where they can work and be positive members of society. If they find they don’t like it, they can save money and use our community college system, which is fully equipped to offer adults a path to a high school diploma.

5. Freeze all enforcement of state laws that pertain to schools and are not essential to their operation. For example, last year, the Department of Transportation made our school paint 15 passenger vans yellow and label “School Bus” on each. The cost for our schools was just over $100,000. Add the money our school had to spend to have every teacher become CDL certified. Each school could see savings in upwards of $120,000. This is only one example. With the right research, it is evident that there are several hoops schools are forced to jump through that have no real effect on students.

6. Freeze rents on state-owned property. Some of our schools have to rent their facilities from the state. Any school that is on one of these properties should be given a forbearance on their obligations until the state of emergency is lifted. The first six were focused on cutting from one area and giving to another, but that won’t be enough. We also need to raise revenue. The next three are revenue-raising ideas that won’t raise taxes on Hawaii residents.

7. Raise taxes on non-Hawaii residents for residential and commercial real estate and charge an entry fee to all tourists who enter the state. Last year, there were over 10 million visitors to the state. A $10 entry tax would have raised $100 million.

8. Legalize cannabis and designate all taxes to teacher pay and retention. The state of Washington brought in $319 million, California brought in $300 million. Colorado brought in $266 million. Oregon brought in %94 million. And Nevada brought in $69.8 million. The state budget allocates $1.7 billion, a 20% cut of the whole budget would be $340 million. This one change could offset most of the lost revenue without any other modifications. The state could use the current dispensaries for distribution and open up growing to the people who can sell their harvest to the dispensaries.

9. Legalize a lottery system and designate all taxes to teacher pay and retention. In Colorado last year, the state brought in $116 million in revenue from ticket sales in the lottery.

10. Lastly, plan for the future. As the economy comes roaring back, the three emergency revenue generators would put the Hawai‘i Department of Education at the forefront of educational investment. With the right planning, we could bring back the arts and vocational education, and we could tell the federal government that we have decided we don’t need the $374 million that they use to coerce us into taking the big standardized tests. It should be pointed out that the data indicates that standardized testing has not increased learning.

It is time for our legislators to step up and make the right choices. We have to start building a system that can withstand periods without tourism. We need to be proactive in moving the state forward and not allow ourselves to be pacified by outdated and antiquated fears.

We need economic independence, and we need sustainable and regenerative agriculture. We need to change the codes so local people can innovate and build using local materials like bamboo, hemp or lava rock. We need leaders who don’t let their personal bias and beliefs cloud their judgment or fill their pockets. We need a governor who can articulate to the rest of the country and the Feds our positions and needs. We need people to wake up and demand changes.

If the changes are not acted on immediately, we need to look to new leaders who will.”

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