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School board considers tying teacher pay to performance

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By Emile Hallez

The Jeffco school board is considering adding performance metrics to its employee compensation system, a measure that, if approved, could take effect in as little as a year.

Currently, the district provides teachers with raises based on length of work experience and level of education, a practice that school board member Laura Boggs said could conflict with recently passed state legislation.

Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, however, said the current practice is indeed in compliance with state law, namely the recently passed Senate Bill 191, sweeping legislation that places an emphasis on teacher evaluations and student performance.

Though the district is evaluating performance-based compensation through a five-year pilot program at a handful of district schools, job performance could be linked to pay well before the program ends, Stevenson said.

“I believe it will happen,” she said. “We have to change the way we pay teachers.”

Although the district has been considering such a change for some time, the school board tasked Stevenson on Aug. 25 with revising documentation outlining responsibilities in setting teacher pay.

Whether performance-based pay has a positive effect on student learning is debatable, Stevenson said, noting that Jeffco could implement a new system in one or two years. However, national trends may be favoring such a move, and Jeffco would not be an exception.

“There’s great debate over whether it’s motivating. … It really depends on whose research and literature you look at,” Stevenson said. “I think there are pros and cons, but I think it’s inevitable that it will go there.”

But Jefferson County Education Association president Kerrie Dallman cautioned against implementing a system without first reviewing data. The teachers’ union is currently partnering with the district in the pilot program, the results of which could indicate whether performance pay has an effect on student achievement, Dallman said.

“Moving in a direction before we have data on whether it works is foolish,” Dallman said. “I’d hate for us to move to a system that has no impact on student growth and student achievement. … All of us at JCEA are eager to see what happens with our strategic compensation grant.”

The new legislation could be used as a guide to help the district revise its compensation system, Boggs said.

“I would like the performance framework to tie to compensation. And I think there’s enough in Senate Bill 191 … to see what that architecture should look like,” she said. “I would like to see a limitation around a more performance-driven model.”

The district’s financial situation is anticipated to worsen in future years, a factor Noonan said required consideration.

“If we redesign the compensation system, and it requires more money, clearly there are implications for that,” Noonan said. “We have to have something in here about assessing the dollar amount.”

At the direction of the board, Stevenson will be revising a district-employee compensation policy, which would ultimately require the board’s approval.

“I think that any compensation plan we develop has to live within our budget,” board member Jane Barnes said. “That’s going to be the challenge for the next couple of years — figuring out how we pay our employees given the budget we have.”

Also raised at the Aug. 25 board meeting was a concern about the number of days teachers work in a year, a number that can fluctuate due to class cancellations on snow days.

In the last academic year, teachers worked one or two days fewer than their contracts designated due to snow days. Though students had to return for an additional day of school to help make up for the difference, the make-up day coincided with a designated as an administrative teacher work day, during which time teachers would otherwise have been cleaning out their classrooms and preparing for summer break.

“I don’t think that’s in line with keeping the public image of the district where we’d like it to be,” Boggs said.

The issue is not a new one. Critics have in prior years raised similar concerns, though no formal action to extend staff days has been taken. However, board members had differing opinions about whether teachers should be required to make up additional days at the end of the school year.

“This comes up every time there’s a snow day. There are folks in the community who don’t get paid when they can’t go to work,” Barnes said. “That’s the crux of the issue — what does it look like to the community? … It’s not really about one day; it’s about what do we do in this situation.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.