Dollars running short with new HSTA contract; other public worker unions yet to settle

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Apr 18 2013 07:05:40 PM HST
Updated On: Apr 18 2013 07:36:30 PM HST

The new agreement between Hawaii and the HSTA will likely fuel pay raises for other public workers. That means the governor's early childhood initiative could become the stepchild of this legislative session.

HONOLULU -

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe put their differences behind them Thursday, as a new four-year contract for public school teachers was signed by stakeholders.

"From today, we will be emphasizing conversation and not confrontation," said the governor. "This contract allows us to have that conversation that moves education forward."

The agreement means starting teachers will earn $43,759 per year in the first year of the contract, which begins July 1. In the final year, starting teacher pay will increase to $45,963. Meanwhile, the most experienced teachers will earn $81,775 in the first year of the agreement, and $84,318 in the final year.

Teachers will also go back to a 60/40 split on health insurance premiums, with the state picking up the majority of the cost. However, the health plan being offered allows teachers to pick their coverage based on medical needs.

"The teachers who wants the best plan, I'm sure they might pay slightly more in their medical coverage," said Okabe. "(Younger teachers) might not go to the doctor as often as I do, so they're going to take a medical plan, you know with the premiums, which fit their needs."

State Budget Director Kalbert Young estimated the cost of the first two years of the contract at nearly $104 million. However, the total price tag will be more than triple that amount.

"It's going to range somewhere between $330 million to $370 million over four years, the length of the contract," said Young.   

With the state yet to settle with the Hawaii Government Employees Association and blue-collar workers represented by UPW, Abercrombie's early childhood education program, at a cost of $30 million, may be in jeopardy.

"We have to be very cognizant of the fact that the money is going down and we don't have a big surplus. That's being realistic." said Rep. John Mizuno, vice speaker of the House."

"At the end of the day we are required by the Constitution to have a balanced budget," added Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "The early childhood education program may not be directly involved with the HSTA contract itself, but we have to explore every option to end the session with a balanced budget."

Mizuno said House leadership appears willing to meet the governor halfway, funding about $15 million for a school readiness program, which would be administered through the Department of Human Services through Senate Bill 1093.

"We believe that we can move this forward, and we think we can provide sufficient funds for early education," Mizuno told KITV4.

On Thursday, House and Senate conferees agreed to move SB 1084 forward, which proposes a constitutional amendment to allow public funds to be appropriated for private early childhood education programs.

On Friday, conferees are scheduled to discuss the establishment of the school readiness program (SB 1093), as well as the governor's early childhood education initiative (SB 1095).

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