”’Editor’s note: State Circuit Judge Karen Ahn stated at the Oct. 7, 2004, hearing she wanted to further research whether the lawsuit Garner et al v. the Hawaii State Department of Education 2002 filed by substitute teachers over compensation issues could proceed based on the grounds that the state violated a contractual agreement. On Dec. 6, 2004, she concluded that plaintiffs may have a contractual claim for back wages, but not monetary damages. Ahn had previously ruled that substitutes would only be able to seek back pay to 2000, an amount estimated at about $16 million, due to a two-year statute of limitations from the time the class action suit was filed in 2002.”’

The recent decision by Circuit Court Judge Karen Ahn to allow substitute teacher pay to be cut because the lawsuit filed by the substitute teachers ”’Garner et al v. the Hawaii State Department of Education 2002”’ did not, according to her, show the pay cut causing “irreparable harm” was wrong on several levels.

While perhaps an insignificant amount of money to some, to a family with a modest income, a decrease of $2,400 or more a year is debilitating. That money pays for gas, it pays for food and other necessities.

I remember when we substitutes got our long-awaited raises, we all agreed that even this relatively small amount of money helped our quality of life. We made commitments based on our expected income such as mortgages or car payments.

We thought we had a contract. Most who review the contract would agree that we had a reasonable expectation that we would receive $119.80 per day for the 2004-2005 school year. It says so in black and white, and is signed by Pat Hamamoto, superintendent of education for the state Department of Education.

Now out of nowhere comes a pay reduction, agreed to by Hawaii State Teachers Association — a union that doesn’t represent us. It’s like a slap in the face, except the pain lingers. Is this what substitute teachers deserve?

Both my husband and I are hard working substitutes with education, experience and dedication. For us this pay cut amounts to a decrease in household income of over $300 a month. Who knows what is waiting down the road as a result of, what is to us, a significant reduction in income? This pay cut could set in motion an unfortunate series of events for many. I submit that “irreparable harm” is unknowable and subjective.

Yet this is not just an issue about money. It’s also about respect, appreciation and morale. Perhaps we have no legal right to being appreciated, but it is a moral imperative or should be, especially in education where it is essential to set a good example. It is also good management. Happy workers equal good work. Unhappy workers will do nothing to enhance education. Unhappy workers don’t’ put their heart and soul into their work and they don’t stay around long.

And students, when they see the way teachers are treated, don’t become teachers.

In a state with a teacher shortage, what could the DOE possibly be thinking? Why us? Why are substitute teachers being targeted for a pay cut effective the same day regular teachers get raises? Could it be because we are not allowed union representation and therefore perceived as most vulnerable?

The DOE has treated us as though we were as disposable as tissue for years but this pay cut is a severe blow. The DOE could lose it’s best substitutes. Morale is at an all time low. The very people (about 500) who are filling in for long-term teacher vacancies are getting a pay cut. They do all the work of a regular teacher and get paid less. There are no sick days, medical benefits or paid vacation. Basically they do all the extra work for nothing. (I won’t do long-term anymore. If I factored in all my time, I’d make $10/hour.)

We hope the DOE will not get away with this short-sighted and self-serving scheme and the judge will reconsider her decision. Taking money out of the pockets of dedicated substitute teachers is not the way to get the state Department of Education’s house in order. If the law will not stand up for us, who will?

”’Jamie David, a substitute teacher with Hawaii’s public schools for the last 13 years, can be reached via email at”’ mailto:davidj529@hawaii.rr.com

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