Teachers ignore a $3.5M carrot

Teachers and the School Board won't scramble to submit a performance pay plan by May 1.

Published April 12, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - They could have collected $3.5-million in bonuses from the state.

But they won't. They aren't even going to try.

Instead, Pasco County teachers will settle for the same amount in performance pay incentives they received last year - a total of about $12,000. And the School Board is just fine with that.

Representatives from both sides could have spent this month scrambling to craft a Merit Award Program, or MAP, plan that meets the criteria of the state's newly minted performance pay law. It would have been a second chance to claim the money, which the district turned down a few weeks ago under the disliked rule that MAP replaced.

Pasco was one of more than 20 districts to either miss or ignore the March 1 deadline to qualify for Special Teachers Are Rewarded, or STAR.

But neither the board nor the United School Employees of Pasco felt they could devise a new method for evaluating which teachers would qualify for the MAP money by the May 1 deadline. So while no one is refusing to negotiate, no one is issuing an invitation to start talking, either.

They will use their existing performance pay plan for this year - one of three options in the new law - while working to craft a program that qualifies Pasco for the larger amount next year.

Teachers union president Lynne Webb acknowledged that $12,000 might sound like peanuts compared with $3.5-million. But at least it's a positive number.

That puts the district in a much better situation than at the beginning of March, she said, when the district's rejection of STAR put it on a path to lose about $4-million in lottery funding while still having to create a $3.5-million performance pay plan with local money.

Since the teachers weren't out to gain anything anyway, Webb said, "They feel like they haven't had to sell out their values."

School Board Chairwoman Marge Whaley, who voted to not participate in the initial program, supported the decision to not move ahead under the new law, too. She said the board in executive session last week agreed to negotiate a new plan only if the teachers wanted to.

No one looked to shove a plan down the teachers' throats, Whaley said, especially now that lawmakers have removed the penalties from the law.

"I have had no teachers say, 'Gee, I hope you can get a plan worked out,' " Whaley said. "Not one."

It makes sense to have a plan that all sides can buy into, board Vice Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said. Getting all the necessary input, and reaching any needed compromises, takes time, she added.

"It would be a win-win for everybody if we do it right," Starkey said.

Negotiators from the two sides plan to sit down in the coming weeks to plot out a course toward future performance pay for teachers. The School Board has scheduled a meeting on the topic for April 17.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.