Sunday, October 28, 2007

Performance Pay in the Spud State

Idaho is working on a statewide merit pay proposal, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review:
A sweeping proposal from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna that would give substantial pay raises to teachers who give up tenure, work at high-performing schools, assume leadership roles or take difficult-to-fill positions drew praise from local school leaders Thursday for its innovation.

The North Idaho school administrators who gathered in Coeur d'Alene on Thursday to hear about the plan raised questions that underscored part of the reason Luna was there: He's seeking input early on what will help the plan win the Legislature's approval next year.

The plan will never be perfect, he said, but "I would encourage you to get behind this, support it, help make it better."

Because the proposal would create two contracts for teachers to choose from – one with tenure and one without – some school leaders questioned how the contract would compare in the instance of forced layoffs. Others wondered how the plan would appeal to school employees like counselors, who under the current proposal wouldn't be eligible for every extra pay incentive, such as more cash for taking on leadership activities.

"Some of those are trials that have yet to be worked out and some are details that could be tweaked," said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. "People really support the plan and like it, they may have a few questions here and there but it's mostly about details."

Luna's proposed budget for the 2008-09 school year calls for a 7.9 percent increase over the previous budget – with about half, or $60 million, going to the performance pay program. Teachers who keep existing contracts with tenure could get increases as high as $6,000 if their schools show growth or proficiency on the ISAT. But teachers who forgo tenure could get added pay for things like certification in multiple subjects.

Key points of the proposal include:

•$2,400, one-time pay increase for all certified staff in a school that's in the top 25 percent statewide and shows improvement on the spring Idaho Standards Achievement Test; $1,200 if the school scores in the 50th to 25th percentiles; $1,200, one-time pay increase for certified staff at a school that performs in the top quartile overall.

•$2,400 per person annually for positions deemed difficult to fill by the school district. •$2,400 annually to give up tenure.

•$2,400 annually for non-tenured teachers who take on extra leadership activities like supervising after-school programs.

•Up to $2,400 for non-tenured teachers who earn additional expertise certificates.

A six-step procedure would be in effect for teachers who choose to forgo tenure for more pay.

"Some teachers already do this when they go into administration," Luna said. "We want to give them the opportunity to take this and remain in the classroom."

The current starting salary for Idaho teachers is $31,000. If the Legislature funds Luna's proposal, a first-year teacher who forgoes tenure and fills an in-demand position would make nearly $5,000 more.

"That's what it's going to take if we're going to attract the best and brightest," he said. "… We're never going to get teacher pay where we want it if we're just going to add 2, 3, 4 percent on the base pay each year."

Though most had questions about the details and suggested changes, school leaders commended the overall plan, saying it is bold and well thought-out.

Post Falls School District Superintendent Jerry Keane asked what the proposal could mean for administrative salaries, which are already closely aligned with top teacher salaries. "That gap is getting smaller as a result of this," he said. "I know you can't take on the whole world … but it's something to think about."

Calling it "a great start," Coeur d'Alene School District Superintendent Harry Amend said the proposal works to address a number of issues "that we have been hammering on in Idaho for a number of years" such as higher pay and attracting teachers to in-demand subject areas like science and special education.

"The point is, it's significant dollars for teacher salaries," said Chuck Kinsey, superintendent of the Lakeland School District. "The window's right to pass it."

Skyway Elementary School third-grade teacher Paula Marano, president of the Coeur d'Alene Education Association, said local educators have questions about the proposal such as how the Legislature will be able to sustain such a substantial increase in the education budget. The union will hear from state union leader Sherri Wood at its next meeting regarding Luna's proposal.

"It's controversial," she said.
In what's becoming my modus operendi, here's a couple of thoughts:

  1. Right message, wrong messenger? Tom Luna isn't the most respected politician in the state of Idaho. His degree has been called into question, and his bona fides on education are sketchier than you'd like to see in the person in charge of all education in your state.

  2. The option to have a tenured or non-tenured contract is interesting--I don't know that I've seen that in any other proposal--and it also begs a question of whether a teacher could switch between the two, or whether they're locked into one for life.

  3. The statement from his spokesperson seems odd; it doesn't speak well of anyone that they would support a plan without knowing the details. It means they either don't care about the details, or they're thoughtless. Neither is attractive.

  4. I emphasized the first bullet point because I'm either misreading it or the reporter doesn't understand percentile rankings, but if you give a bonus to those schools in the highest (75th to 99th) percentiles, then a different bonus to those schools in the 25th to 50th percentiles, you've oddly skipped the schools from the 51st to 75th. I can guess what the plan is, but the reporter worded it very awkwardly.

  5. Note that all of the support statements are from superintendents, who have absolutely nothing to lose from this. It'll be interesting to see how the IEA, toothless as they are, respond.

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Anonymous Karen said...

Regarding the first prong of the plan (in bold), I question the idea that teacher ("certified staff") at schools with high test results should be awarded bonuses. Unless the bonuses are based only on improvements from year to year, essentially this seems to be saying that teachers in high-income, high performing schools will get more money, while teachers in low-income, presumably lower performing schools won't. Is this an incentive for teachers to work in low-income schools? As a former teacher, this incentive system would encourage me to flee to the upper middle class suburbs.

6:25 AM  
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7:02 AM  

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