Hawaii’s Teachers’ Pay Appalling Even After Strike

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According to a national report, Hawaii’s teachers are the lowest paid in the nation when their salaries are adjusted for inflation.


Hawaii’s average teacher salaries ranked 17th highest. But when adjusted for the state’s high cost of living, Hawaii’s average dropped to 51st, behind all other states and the District of Columbia, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

What’s appalling about this report is that Hawaii’s teachers had to endure a strike to get to that point. The strike won them an increase in starting salaries from $25,000 in 1997 to $34,300 in 2003 — a 34 percent or $10,000 increase in just a little over five years.

Sounds good, but not good enough. Hawaii’s average salary was $44,306 during the 2001-02 school year. In California it was $54,348, followed by Michigan, $52,497; Connecticut, $52,376; Rhode Island, $51,619; and New York, $51,020.

We understand the state’s fiscal condition makes pay raises difficult, But the high cost of living means many teachers cannot afford to buy houses — a key factor for a person deciding to avoid a profession or leave it.

Ultimately, we get what we pay for.

Let’s think this through — rather than relying on the union’s lobbyists to provide us with the facts and then have that magnified to monstrous distortions by the editorial writers, unchallenged.

“Hawaii’s average teacher salaries ranked 17th highest. But when adjusted for the state’s high cost of living, Hawaii’s average dropped to 51st, behind all other states and the District of Columbia, according to the American Federation of Teachers.”

First off, the American Federation did not say the second sentence as this writer implies. That embellishment is produced locally, probably by the editorial writer himself, using whatever arbitrary cost of living adjustment he wants. On the low end, that is usually a premium of 30 percent — arbitrarily tacked on. On the high end, the national average is doubled and then 30 percent is tacked on for good measure — which of course, will always result in our local salaries faring dead last in national comparisons. One simply decides what conclusions he wants and then makes up whatever “facts” he wants to substantiate his contention — and most people will go along.

If all pay was equal, where would most people choose to live? If all rents were equal, where would most people choose to live? One would expect that a premium would be paid to live in areas most people would find desirable and other consolations given for lesser fulfillments. One would logically expect that in a desirable place as Hawaii, other compensations would be lower because if quality of life is high and then other compensations are 30+ percent higher, everybody would be here.

For most people raised in the Islands, the competition is not whether to become a teacher in New York City or to remain in Hawaii — but whether it is more advantageous to be a policeman or school teacher in Hawaii. That is the real choice. Unlike most high paying professionals, teachers tend to remain in their local communities — as their highest priorities. Very few, I venture to say, are constantly scanning the Wall Street Journal daily to find out where the highest salaries are being paid — and then being quick to move there. In the examples cited where the pay is the highest for teachers, such as Connecticut, the rest of the community is making much more and so the relative pay is much less — relative to that community.

In Hawaii, on the other hand, the pay of school teachers and virtually all government workers begins above the median income for the rest of the community, which is about $20,000. Obviously people making $40,000 not only rank in the upper half but are statistically in the upper 25 percent — and then on the high end of the seniority scale, the person making $80,000 is in the upper 10 percent — while getting paid four times as much as the person at the lowest end of the pay scale — rewarding seniority. The $80,000 plus two beginning salaries of $25,000 will give one an average of $44,000 for the three — which doesn’t convey any of the real injustice of that pay scheme. The “average” doesn’t convey the real experience that those just beginning are being underpaid while those who have no intention of starting over, are overpaid.

The problem with teacher recruitment is attracting people into the field. That would be done by increasing the beginning salaries to attract both new talent and people of accomplishment in other fields who are reluctant to start over at the bottom. Meanwhile, people who really love teaching and wouldn’t want to do anything else for all the money in the world, are not swayed to remain in teaching by more pay — especially at the expense of their colleagues just beginning to experience the challenge and trauma of teaching. Those who remain for only the money, all things being equal, are your poorest teachers; you want them to move on — to find out what they truly love to do.

That’s true of all the occupations. You want peep there who love being there; that’s who they are and what they do best. Very few are well rewarded just in their pay. The greatest compensation is living the life you want to live, were meant to live. Now if one is constantly complaining about sacrificing a lucrative NBA career for that of a teacher, society is better served in letting that individual pursue his NBA longings, and then when the time is more appropriate, he can settle in with a world of wonderful experiences to share and teach to others — instead of never having experienced life outside of a school, as with many “teachers.” Or in the case of writers, they’ll have real world experiences to recount rather than words that have no meaning and validity.

”’Mike Hu, a resident of Honolulu, can be reached via email at:”’ mailto:humikhu@aol.com