Columbia High School algebra teacher Mandy Simpson says shed rather see the millions earmarked for teacher bonuses distributed to districts for measures that would improve the educational experience for students and teachers alike.
That money could go to reduce class sizes, to hire more teachers to provide an environment where kids can be successful, said Simpson, the new president of Nampas teacher union. We would love for that money to go into really putting students first.
She said her class sizes this fall average 35 students, up from 27 two years ago.
Idaho schools superintendent Tom Luna and other proponents of his Students Come First package of laws say the pay-for-performance plan serves student interests by rewarding excellent teachers and further motivating strong performance.
Paying everyone the same is not the way to attract the best and the brightest, and its not much of an incentive for the Legislature to increase teacher pay, Luna said earlier this month.
The schools chief plans to ask the Legislature to allocate more than $61 million for the second year of pay-for-performance, when classified staff would become eligible for bonuses and teachers could earn additional money by taking on leadership roles or hard-to fill jobs.
NEW PLYMOUTH LEADS THE WAY
Although many Idaho teachers vocally oppose the pay-for-performance law and public support from teachers has been scarce, one small district has made merit pay a key part of its operations for 10 years and has seen success.
This is a huge part of what we do, said New Plymouth Elementary School Counselor Phyllis Nichols, who coordinates testing for the district.
She said teachers are happy with the program, which Superintendent Ryan Kerby introduced in 2002 by promising that if they increased students test scores, each teacher would get a $1,000 bonus.
The money isnt our driving force. Our driving force is the success weve had, Nichols said. For us, its the pride of being one of the best schools in the state.
New Plymouth Elementary, formerly languishing in the bottom 25 percent of scores for the Idaho Reading Indicator, now ranks No. 1, she said. And the district also greatly improved its ISAT scores.
Our teachers worked their tails off, and were pretty proud, she said.
New Plymouths bonus system was a key factor in the districts improving test scores because it encourages collaboration, Nichols said. Teachers at each grade level set their own goals.
So far, she said, each grade level has earned at least a partial bonus each year.
If the statewide plan, based in part on New Plymouths model, doesnt survive the election, Nichols said, were going to keep doing what were doing. Were where we want to be and we want to stay there.
COMPENSATION AND COMPETITION
Ken Burgess, campaign manager for the effort to preserve the education laws passed by the 2011 Legislature, said the pay-for-performance piece seems to be attracting strong support.
I think of the three, its the easiest one to understand for the average person, Burgess said. They say, Sure, if someones doing a better job than somebody else they should get something for it. And it also provides a possibility for teachers to earn more, and people get behind that.
Teachers, too, like the idea of educators making more money after recession-driven cuts and salary freezes that have teacher compensation still lagging behind 2009 levels.
Im only making $32 more a month than when I first started, said Meridian High School special education teacher Tracy Glass, who has taught there for six years.
But she and other opponents say the merit-pay plan is not the way to boost teachers paychecks. They say the plan could spark unhealthy competition or feelings of inequity between schools in the same district when one set of students fares better on standardized tests, qualifying their teachers for merit pay.
Students improvement on standardized tests is a major component of the pay-for-performance formula, but many factors beyond teachers control affect how well a child does on statewide test day, Glass said.
Itd be like dentists being paid on how many cavities a kid has, she said. And that dentist has no influence on how that family is eating or how much sugar that kid gets.
TEACHERS HELPED SHAPE THE PLAN
One of opponents beefs with what they call the Luna Laws focused on a failure to involve teachers and other stakeholders in creating the education reform package, which Luna didnt mention in his 2010 re-election campaign but unveiled to the Legislature a couple of months later.
But the pay-for-performance element was the one aspect of Students Come First that was developed collaboratively with teachers: The IEA and other education groups agreed to the plan in 2009 as part of Idahos unsuccessful application for $120 million in federal Race to the Top grant funds.
Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr said the teachers union supports the merit-pay approach, but only if there were a fresh source of money as would have been provided through Race to the Top. She said the IEA would like to see lawmakers investigate fresh sources of revenue rather than shift funds from one aspect of education to another.
Its like taking money out of everybodys left pocket and giving some of it back in some peoples right pocket, Meridian Education Association President Luke Franklin said. Why wouldnt we want to take all of that money and put it into the base salary, for example?
Sonia Galaviz, a fifth-grade teacher at Boises Garfield Elementary School, said shed rather the merit pay money go toward improving all educator salaries, not just those who meet pay-for-performance goals.
Galaviz, who opposes the three education reform laws, said she hasnt yet learned if she earned a merit bonus while working in the Nampa district last year.
Truthfully, thats the last thing on my mind, said Galaviz, whose salary has been frozen for three years. I don't care about the bonus.
The state shifted nearly $15 million from school salary funding in fiscal 2012 to help pay for some of the initial reforms, and Lunas proposed budget for fiscal 2014 aims to restore that money to teacher base pay and increase total teacher compensation by 5 percent, including an expectation that pay-for-performance will continue and expand.
Glass said she advocates measuring teacher performance, but Idaho should come up with a different way.
A lot of teachers have ideas, but nobody really asks us, she said. Maybe we should take a couple of years to figure out what does work. Get teachers involved, get parents involved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kristin Rodine: 377-6447