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Schools may have to swallow bonus plan

By Times editorial
Published February 27, 2007


The plan promises more money for some teachers, but Citrus County teachers themselves have overwhelmingly rejected it. The administration is less-than-thrilled with the idea, but they have recommended its approval. Today, this unwanted gift falls into the School Board's lap.

The intention of the Special Teachers Are Rewarded, or STAR, program is to provide 5 percent bonus money for the highest-performing teachers. The rub is that the system would rely heavily on the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

That means that only 31 percent of the teachers, those who instruct in subjects and grades covered by the FCAT, can even be considered. Music? Geography? Physical education? Vocational training? Forget about it.

Those who have studied the plan the closest, the teachers themselves, have soundly rejected STAR across the state. In Citrus County, the teachers union told the board that 75 percent of the teachers voted against STAR.

But Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel points out that the School Board's decision on whether to implement STAR is not quite so easy.

The state says the district must have a plan in place by March 1 to qualify for its portion of the $147-million designated for the bonuses. If Citrus wants the $800,000 earmarked for its teachers, it must use STAR. The district can develop its own performance-based plan, but it would have to use its own money for bonuses. And the state would have to approve the district's plan, meaning it would have to mirror STAR to pass muster.

Officials around the state have said that among the many problems with STAR, it will turn teachers against each other by setting up an unfair rewards system. Teachers union representatives are especially incensed about that wrinkle.

Himmel is right to say that rejecting the state STAR funds, and risking the possible loss of lottery money, would be imprudent. Therefore, with reluctance, she is recommending that the board approve STAR.

In doing so, Citrus would follow districts around the state, including neighboring Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas counties, which have recently approved the plan, also with great misgivings.

The hope of educators around the state is that STAR dies a quick death under the new Crist administration and that teachers have a strong voice in developing a new, and sensible, method of rewarding top teachers.

Until then, Citrus School Board members have little choice but to hold their noses and vote to approve STAR.

[Last modified February 26, 2007, 23:11:54]

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