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Budget includes revised teacher merit pay plan

School boards would negotiate the terms with the teachers union. The plan it replaces would have been imposed by the state.

Published May 4, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - A one-year, $147.5-million teacher merit pay plan designed to reward performance has been included in the state budget to replace a never-implemented program that drew fire from lawmakers, teachers and school boards.

The new version is an improvement over the state Board of Education's Efficiency Compensation, or E-Comp, plan but still has problems, said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

"It's kind of E-Comp light," Pudlow said Wednesday.

The union's position is that performance pay plans should not be enacted until base salaries in the state equal or exceed the national average.

"That's not the political reality of the world we are living in," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

Blanton's group worked with lawmakers who drew up the legislative plan dubbed STAR, for Special Teachers Are Rewarded.

A key difference is that school boards would negotiate the terms of local STAR programs with the teachers union, while the E-Comp plan would have been imposed by the state, Blanton said. Pudlow, however, pointed out the state Board of Education still could veto the local plans.

As with E-Comp, STAR bonuses would be based largely on how much a teacher's students improved on standard tests. E-Comp would have used the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to determine that.

"We had a real problem with basing teacher performance on one test," Blanton said.

The legislative alternative does not specify the FCAT, although that's the one test all Florida public schools must administer.

"That means FCAT," Pudlow said.

Blanton disagreed. He said he doubted union negotiators would agree to using it.

The $55-million E-Comp plan would have given a 5 percent bonus - about $2,000 on average - to only the top 10 percent of teachers across the state. STAR would provide enough for bonuses for at least 25 percent of the state's teachers.

The $71-billion budget would increase spending on public schools by $1.77-billion. That's $542 more for every student, an increase of nearly 8.7 percent.

Pudlow said it should be enough for teacher raises of 5 to 7 percent, as not all the money will be spent on salaries. That is a significant gain but still would leave Florida below the national average, he said.

STAR was developed and added to the appropriations bill during talks between House and Senate budget negotiators. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on it Friday.

Education Commissioner John Winn, who joined the state board in proposing E-Comp, has said all they wanted to do was get the ball rolling on performance pay and were less concerned about the details.

[Last modified May 4, 2006, 00:59:16]

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