The state Ethics Commission is about to add to its unpopularity by again targeting public school teachers with a new set of proposed guidelines explaining that certain stipends paid to teachers by outside organizations or agencies appear to be “inconsistent with the State Ethics Code.”
The guidelines are due to be discussed and possibly acted on by the commission at its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, June 16.
The Commission received a complaint that a certain entity had offered to pay teachers a stipend to implement the entity’s new curriculum in the classroom. That complaint prompted the Commission to inquire as to whether DOE teachers were offered or paid stipends by non-DOE entities in other situations. The DOE provided the Commission with a sampling of cases where a non-DOE entity offered or paid stipends to teachers for performing a range of activities, including but not limited to attending training workshops, participating in pilot programs or studies, conducting projects, teaching classes, participating in a fellowship program, or mentoring student teachers.
“Depending upon the particular facts and circumstances, a teacher’s acceptance of a stipend from a non-DOE entity for performing or participating in an activity may be prohibited under one or more provisions of the State Ethics Code,” according to the guidelines.
The provisions cited are those regarding conflicts of interests, fair treatment, gifts, and confidential information.
The guidelines describe several kinds of stipends which are said to be prohibited, as well as others that permitted.
The new guidelines generally permit teachers to accept stipends when the work is part of a contract entered into by the Department of Education, and where the department has determined that teachers will be compensated for doing additional work beyond their regular duties.
But other stipends don’t pass the ethics commission’s tests.
For example, the new guidelines advise that teachers to avoid situations that give rise to conflicts of interest. For example, teachers should not accept stipends paid by a private publisher for endorsing one of the companies books that have bee used in DOE classrooms.
The teacher may be viewed as using his or her official position to give the Publisher an unwarranted advantage over other textbook companies, in contravention of the main provision of the fair treatment law, HRS section 84-13. Moreover, the stipend appears to constitute an unwarranted benefit the teacher receives because of his or her position as a DOE teacher.
Other interpretations could generate more controversy. For example, the guidelines would prohibit stipends paid to reward teachers for improved student performance, including those from a nonprofit educational consortium that “pays a cash reward to Advanced Placement (“AP”) teachers for each student who enrolls in the teachers’ AP classes who scores a “3” or better on the AP exam.”
The commission would also prohibit the University of Hawaii from rewarding teachers with gift cards for increasing participation in evaluation studies of a curriculum developed for and adopted by the DOE. The guidelines describe UH as an outside, “private entity” despite its status as another state agency like the DOE, and the shared interest of the DOE and UH in achieving more robust evaluations of their classroom curricula.
Teachers and the Department of Education are still smarting over the Ethics Commission’s hardline position on compensation of teachers for their participation in educational trips for students and their families.
The new guidelines are being considered while the commission is still finalizing its interview questions to be used in selecting a new executive director. Commission director Les Kondo resigned from his position in order to accept the position of state auditor beginning May 1. Longtime staff attorney and associate director, Susan Yoza, is currently serving as interim director.