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Board studies new bonus plan

If approved, districts can disregard the reviled STAR program to reward teachers.

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published March 26, 2007


INVERNESS - Educators in Citrus County could earn a $4,200 bonus under a new state program that seeks to link teacher performance and pay.

The extra paycheck is nearly double the amount that Citrus instructors would receive under Special Teachers Are Rewarded, a controversial state bonus plan that critics assailed as unfair and divisive.

The state's new, voluntary plan is called the Merit Award Program. If it becomes law, Citrus and other school districts can disregard STAR and devise another formula to measure and reward teacher performance. But districts must act by May 1 to qualify for new funding for teacher bonuses this year.

Citrus district officials haven't made up their minds.

"We have a lot of questions and very little time," said Steve Richardson, the district's personnel director. "We need to figure out what is the prudent thing to do."

Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she was pleased that the state is giving local districts more flexibility to determine how to measure teacher performance under MAP. She only wishes the district had more time to come up with a formula.

"The best plan would be to give us another year to do this," she said.

Deborah Platt, president of the teachers union, was on spring break and said she wasn't intimately familiar with the details of the new merit award program. But she praised lawmakers for repealing the STAR plan, which she called "a horrendous idea."

"I'm glad some intelligence was shown by the Legislature," she said. "The new plan might be livable and not as demoralizing as the STAR plan."

Earlier this year, the Citrus County School Board approved the STAR plan even though 75 percent of its teachers voted against it. The board feared it would lose millions in state lottery funds if it rejected the plan. Board members also believed that by approving STAR, the district stood to collect more than its $814,000 share if other districts decided not to participate.

The school boards in Hillsborough and Pasco counties listened to their teachers and voted down STAR. Neither district was penalized.

Educators complained STAR relied too heavily on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores to determine who were the most deserving teachers. It made it difficult to reward the work done by non-FCAT teachers such as librarians, curriculum specialists and guidance counselors.

The new Merit Award Program lets districts use national, state and locally developed tests, in addition to FCAT, to assess at least 60 percent of an instructor's performance. Educators would also be evaluated based on professional practices, like a principal's annual evaluation of a teacher.

STAR gave only 5 percent pay bonuses to the "top 25 percent" of instructors at each school. Under MAP, teachers could earn up to 10 percent of the district's average pay. The average salary in Citrus is $42,000.

Richardson said the district might decide to revert to an old performance pay plan for this year while it figures out the best course of action. That plan, which many agree is too cumbersome, requires teachers to submit portfolios showing accomplishments in a variety of areas, such as communicating with students and fostering critical thinking skills.

Physical education teacher Terry Flaherty doesn't know too much about the new merit pay plan. But he said any plan that compares the performance of teachers using student test scores is unfair.

"Everyone brings something different to the table and every kid is different," he said. "We're not producing widgets."

The district will meet with the union in the coming weeks before making a decision on how to proceed.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 860-7305.

Fast Facts:

 

STAR vs. MAP

Criteria for bonuses

- STAR: Primary factor is student test scores - either FCAT, end-of-course exams or other objective measure. Department of Education has determined primary to mean at least 50 percent.

- MAP: At least 60 percent should be based on student test scores.

Caps vs. tiers

- STAR: Caps number of teachers who can get bonuses at 25 percent in each district.

- MAP: Allows districts to determine percentage of teachers who get bonuses.

Bonus amounts

- STAR: Five percent of base salary. A teacher making $42,000 - the state average - would get $2,100.

- MAP: Five percent to 10 percent of the district average. The average salary in Citrus is $42,000, so a teacher would get up to a $4,200 bonus.

Funding source

- STAR: Entirely state-funded.

- MAP: Entirely state-funded.

Total amount

- STAR: Legislature set aside $147.5-million for STAR last year.

- MAP: Gov. Charlie Crist wants to spend $295-million next year.

Who is eligible

- STAR: All teachers and school-based administrators.

- MAP: All teachers and school-based administrators.

Scope

- STAR: Every public school in Florida.

- MAP: School district participation is voluntary.

Origins

- STAR passed in 2006 with support from Gov. Jeb Bush. Modeled on a plan passed by Bush appointees on the Board of Education.

Key lawmakers crafted plans after committees took input from stakeholders, including teachers and teacher unions.