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Teachers not buying state's performance bonus program

Some may find the program divisive. Others think teachers simply should be paid more.

Published April 3, 2003

A new state plan that ties teacher bonuses to classroom results is off to a slow start.

The problem: Most teachers just aren't interested.

Championed by Gov. Jeb Bush, the plan offers teachers a bonus equal to 5 percent of their annual pay if they can show they are doing an outstanding job. For many teachers, that would be an extra $1,500 to $2,500.

"Very few teachers that I've talked to are interested," said Charles Yingling, a physical education teacher at Tampa's Seminole Elementary School who declined to participate.

"I just don't think teachers like the idea of taking money from all teachers to give bonuses to a few," he said.

The state isn't providing extra money for the bonuses. School districts were told to set aside funds and to devise a detailed plan that follows the state's broad guidelines.

Pinellas County earmarked $1.8-million for the bonuses, assuming that up to 10 percent of its teachers would qualify. Hillsborough put aside $2.5-million and Pasco reserved $400,000.

It looks like they won't need nearly that much.

Only 2 to 4 percent of the eligible teachers in Pinellas have applied, and not all of them will qualify for a bonus. Other districts report similar numbers.

"I think a lot of people saw this as a very divisive program," said Ron Stone, the Pinellas County associate superintendent in charge of the program.

In Pasco County, only four teachers signed up to participate. That's four out of 3,600 teachers.

"It has been abysmal," said Bob Dorn, the Pasco County administrator in charge of secondary schools.

The performance pay plan, part of Gov. Bush's 1999 A-Plus Plan, is an effort to bring business-like principles to schools. It was sold as a long overdue departure from the traditional method of paying teachers according to education level and experience.

"This is a big change to the existing culture," said Betty Coxe, the deputy chancellor for the Florida Department of Education. She thinks the program will pick up momentum in future years.

The plan requires significant effort from teachers, who must demonstrate outstanding work in the classroom to qualify . Teachers in some districts are using improved student tests scores to show their effectiveness. Some are videotaping their lessons.

In Polk County, teachers must have a master's degree or have gone through the rigorous National Board certification process.

Some districts made the criteria difficult so that few teachers could qualify. That made the program cheaper to implement.

"There's so little money right now, we wanted to put as much into salaries as we could," said David Lauer, assistant superintendent for human resources in Polk County.

In Pinellas County, the teachers union, which was openly hostile toward the initiative, helped design the district's program.

"Our goal was to make it nearly impossible," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. "It's a bad pay system based on a bad set of criteria."

Moore was referring to the use of FCAT scores to show that a teacher's work is outstanding.

Despite the general resistance, some teachers are participating.

"I don't support the concept, but I have signed up for it," said Missy Keller, president-elect of the teachers union in Hernando County and a kindergarten teacher at Chocachatti Elementary School.

Keller considers the program something of a gimmick. She said the state should just pay teachers higher salaries.

But she is a single mom and is tempted by the possibility of a substantial bonus.

"I could use the money," Keller said.

[Last modified April 3, 2003, 02:44:42]

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