(The following commentary was written by Justin Hughey, a Maui school teacher, Democratic activist and friend of PDH. It was published as a guest editorial in Friday’s Star-Advertiser. Because a lot of people live on THIS side of the paywall, I asked Hughey if we could also publish it on the PDH Blog.)
Recent history has every Hawaii governor winning primarily on their pro-education platforms, yet each has failed to make the connection between teachers and education.
In 1994, Democrat Benjamin Cayetano ran on education, and a result of his election was the educationally crippling teachers’ strike. This, in part, doomed his lieutenant governor, former teacher Mazie Hirono, who lost her bid to succeed Cayetano to Linda Lingle, who also ran on education. A result of Lingle’s election was the dubious distinction of Hawaii having the fewest instructional days in the nation after she furloughed public school teachers.
Now-Gov. Neil Abercrombie ran on education, obtaining his first union endorsement from the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Yet soon after his election, contract negotiations were not cordial as one might expect of the endorsee. His chief negotiator threatened that 800 teachers could lose their jobs and “more nasty things to come” in working conditions if HSTA does not give into the governor’s demands.
When HSTA did not roll over, Abercrombie’s negotiator walked away from the collective bargaining table. Abercrombie then “leapfrogged” the union to impose his wishes regarding the teachers contract by having the superintendent announce to the teachers that they had no choice but to accept his “last, best, and final offer.” In light of what has been happening in states controlled by Republicans, these heavy-handed measures against teachers would have hardly been surprising if brought about by Lingle, a Republican-come-lately. But a lifelong Democrat such as Abercrombie?
I am a teacher first and a Democrat second. After years of fending off attacks by the Lingle administration, I felt it was going to indeed be a “new day” when Abercrombie took office saying, “No more furloughs.” His duplicity on this and other promises soon became apparent, when he resorted to semantics, calling teacher furloughs “non-paid non-instructional days.” Thus, although kids were no longer furloughed, teachers were.
Bearing this in mind, how can education really be anywhere near the top of Abercrombie’s priority list?
Teachers are the people who teach all other professions. A good education means you have a strong workforce. Valuing education is vital to our health as a society. Leaders elsewhere know this. Singapore pays teachers the same as doctors. Here, after factoring in the cost of living, Hawaii teachers earn the least in our nation. Most states offer salary steps, small monetary increases for experience earned teaching, but not in Hawaii. Can it be any wonder that teachers, many of our best and brightest, are leaving our state? If you say you value education, you must value teachers.
To do otherwise is just so much political lip service.