Economics rule in vote on teacher merit pay

Published February 23, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - No one was happy about it.

But faced with the loss of at least $1.2-million in state funding, the Hernando County School Board voted this week to impose a merit-pay plan upon its teachers union, the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

Though many harsh words had been exchanged since the union in December unexpectedly declared its refusal to vote on the controversial plan, most of the heat was gone at the Tuesday School Board meeting.

"Am I to assume from your comments that you and your bargaining team not only understand but accept that it's prudent that we impose this plan on your organization?" School Board member Jim Malcolm asked.

"Yeah, we do understand that," union president Brian Phillips said.

Had the School Board refused to impose a plan, state education officials said they would have rejected the district's own merit pay proposal and forced it to pay for a similar plan out of its own general budget. It might also face the possible loss of state lottery funds.

Under the Special Teachers Are Rewarded plan, up to 25 percent of teachers will receive a bonus of 5 percent or more, based on their students' performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Phillips said the criteria were impossibly narrow.

"HCTA cannot accept the assumption that 75 percent of the district's teachers are less than outstanding," he said. "But HCTA understands the financial impact to the district and its employees if you refuse to participate in the STAR program."

Board members also have objected to the plan's timetable, under which districts must devise subject-area tests and evaluate the performance of each teacher's students by the end of the current school year.

For School Board member Sandra Nicholson - who cast the only dissenting vote over the plan's adoption - that mandate was too unreasonable.

Other members showered her with praise for her symbolic act of resistance.

"I don't think we could have afforded (to reject) it, but thank you for standing up," Malcolm told her.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.