HONOLULU -- Hawaii's public schoolteachers overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year contract, allowing them to return to classrooms Wednesday for the first time in three weeks.
The contract gives 16 percent in salary increases, plus bonuses, to the 13,000 teachers who had been on strike since April 5. Classes will resume Thursday for Hawaii's 182,000 students.
"Our teachers will return with their heads held high knowing they have done a tremendous service for the improvement of public education," said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Karen Ginoza.
More than 85 percent of the teachers participating voted Tuesday night to approve the contract, she said. The vote came a day after union and state negotiators reached a settlement and was the final act in the nearly three-week walkout.
"We believe that it will place us among the top 10 highest average salaries in the nation," Gov. Ben Cayetano said.
Teachers who lined roadsides and picketed school yards for 19 days turned out for more sign-waving Tuesday, only this time to thank the public for its support with strike signs pasted over with "mahalo," Hawaiian for "thank you."
Cayetano said Hawaii also achieved its goals of raising salaries to be competitive with the mainland and addressing its teacher shortage.
However, he said the agreement does not fully compensate for cost of living, a key issue in the dispute. Teachers argued they should earn more than the national average because of Hawaii's cost of living, estimated at 20 percent to 30 percent higher than on the mainland.
Hawaii's teachers earn between $29,000 and $58,000 a year. The state ranked 18th among the 50 states in a National Education Association list of average 1998-99 salaries, at $40,377 a year.
Under the pact, the salary range would rise to between $34,294 and just over $64,000.
The strike began after the union rejected the state's offer of 14 percent over two years. The union had demanded 22 percent over four years, retroactive to July 1999.
The proposed agreement includes a $550 bonus payment for each of the last two school years, in addition to 16 percent in increases over the next two years.
The proposed wage hikes would cost the state more than $109 million over the next two fiscal years, Cayetano said.
Superintendent of Education Paul LeMahieu said the strike, which cost students 14 days in the classroom, won't require an extension of the school year, but will force cancellation of a standard achievement test that was intended to serve as a new baseline.
Teachers are being asked to cut back year-end field trips in the remaining 30 school days.
A separate strike by University of Hawaii faculty that began the same day public schoolteachers walked out ended when professors reached a two-year contract agreement with the state last week. The coinciding strikes were the first time the state's entire public education system was shut down by labor disputes.
On the Net:
Teachers Association: http://www.hsta.org
State of Hawaii: http://www.hawaii.gov
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