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Contract Stumbles on Teacher Evaluations

Mary Vorsino, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Contract Stumbles on Teacher EvaluationsThe head of Hawaii's public school teachers union says the decision to turn down a take-it-or-leave-it two-year settlement offer that included annual 2 percent raises was because of the lack of clarity about a revised teacher evaluation system linked to student performance.

Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the union also believes teachers deserve a more generous pay raise.

"Teachers are more than frustrated about the way they have been treated," Okabe said. "We are talking about retention and recruitment of teachers."

The state's proposed 2013-2015 contract offer expired Monday, when the union's negotiating team voted not to accept it. The decision left state officials disappointed and frustrated.

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Talks are set to resume in January.

The development means a labor dispute with teachers is almost certain to drag into the new year.

Teachers have been working under an imposed contract offer since July 1, 2011, when negotiations fell apart. That imposed offer expires in July.

The state's proposed 2013-15 settlement would have restored the 5 percent wage cuts teachers took in 2011, while keeping a 50-50 split on employee and state contributions to medical insurance.

But Okabe said the biggest concern wasn't pay or benefits, but about the new evaluation system.

The system would rate teachers, in part, on the academic growth of their students, using test scores as one of the measures to gauge student performance.

Okabe said there have been complaints from teachers about a pilot program of the evaluation system, and growing questions about whether the new ratings can be implemented well in such a short amount of time.

He said the use of test scores in the evaluation is also concerning.

"It is not only about the test scores," he said. "It's about multiple measures within the evaluation process."

The state is experimenting with new evaluations for teachers and principals at 82 schools, and by next school year plans to take the system statewide. Ratings would officially take effect in the 2014-15 school year.

Under the terms of the offer the union rejected, teachers would have needed an "effective" rating or better in the 2014-15 school year (the second year of the contract) to receive any pay increases put in place in 2015-16 or later.

Ronn Nozoe, deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education, said HSTA has participated in work to develop the evaluation system from the start and will participate in implementing the rating systems.

"It's not accurate to be saying that the evaluation is all about test scores," he said. "The whole design of the system is based on multiple measures of student performance."

Asked whether the state is ready to put the evaluation system into full practice, he said, "Absolutely. We can do this."

Revising teacher evaluations has been a contentious debate nationally, as more states have moved to performance pay.

About 20 states now require student achievement to be a significant factor in judging teacher performance, up from four in 2009, according to the National Center for Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C.-based research and policy group.

In January, Hawaii teachers overwhelmingly rejected a six-year contract that would have linked the new evaluations to pay raises. But in May, in a second vote on the proposal, 66 percent supported it. In that vote a "yes" vote supported the offer while a "no" vote supported a strike.

As part of Race to the Top efforts, the state pledged to institute a new evaluation system that included measures of student academic growth along with a new observation tool and a student survey by 2014-15.

Hawaii's $75 million federal Race to the Top grant was put on "high risk" status in 2011 because of the labor dispute with teachers and slow progress on planned school improvements.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said Tuesday she was disappointed HSTA didn't agree to the settlement offer, which she characterized as "fair."

"There were a lot of things that made this a very promising offer, so it was very disappointing that it was not considered," she said. "At the end of the day, this has no doubt been extremely difficult for the teachers on the front lines."

She also said she didn't understand why negotiations could not begin again immediately. While the state wanted to return to talks Dec. 19, the union said negotiations would have to wait until teachers got back from winter break.

Tokuda noted that by the time negotiations resume, the Legislature will already be starting budget briefings.

"This is a critical time when you're going to want to have as much done as possible," she said.

Several teachers reached Tuesday, though, said they supported the union's decision.

"A lot of teachers are frustrated. They feel like we should just strike," said Farrington High School teacher Theresa Schubert. "We don't believe this is the best the state can offer."

She said she believes the state can and should offer more competitive salaries as a way of keeping good educators in the classroom.

She also has big concerns about the proposed evaluations, calling the new rating system "very gray."

Corey Rosenlee, a Campbell High social studies teacher, said increased medical costs have taken more out of teachers' pockets, and the 2 percent pay raises would barely cover those increased expenses.

Rosenlee also had concerns about the evaluation system and said he doesn't understand how teachers can be responsible for the test scores of students when there are so many factors that go into performance, from whether a child attends class to whether students take the test seriously.

"The teachers don't mind being evaluated. What we don't want is student test scores to be the determining factor," said Rosenlee, one of the organizers of teachers' continuing "work to rule" protests.

Teachers at about 93 schools will participate in the protests Thursday, working only the hours they are required to under contract.

April Hosino, another Campbell High teacher, said she also was "not thrilled" with the evaluation provisions in the contract offer, and she is looking for more concrete detail on how the evaluations would be tied to pay and what weight would be given to student test scores.

She also said she was surprised the state didn't offer a higher pay raise.

"I was hoping the state would offer something higher," she said. "I'm not looking to get rich, but I was hoping for an overall fair deal." ___