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Teachers promote pay for progress

The union for Hillsborough faculty members would peg their pay to students' improvement during the year.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2000


TAMPA -- The Hillsborough teachers union is pushing the school district to adopt a pay system that would reward teachers for their performance, a move that just a few years ago union leaders would have considered akin to a self-inflicted shot in the foot.

In a proposal now being considered by the district, union officials suggest pegging teacher pay to the improvement their students show over the course of a year.

The shift, union leaders say, is a response to the Legislature's approval last year of Gov. Jeb Bush's A-Plus plan, which requires districts to implement performance-based pay by 2002.

"We are taking control of our destiny," said Terry Wilson, the executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. "We will be the ones who determine who gets the pay. We will be determining the fair and impartial factors and the rewards available." District officials, while not commenting on the substance of the proposal, said the concept is in line with their thinking.

"It captures the reality of the workplace in the year 2000," said David Binnie, the chief contract negotiator for the county. "Workers realize that performance is a highly significant factor in determining pay." But not every county is leaping to get ahead of the seemingly inevitable curve.

Pinellas County's union remains staunchly opposed to tying teacher pay to student performance.

"Student achievement is affected by so many factors outside the classroom," said Jade Moore, the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

Gary Landry, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association/United, a Tallahassee-based group that works with local unions around that state, said that districts have struggled in responding to the A-Plus Plan's pay requirements.

"We have told them the important thing is to have a say in how this is developed. The state mandated that this be done, so at least we'll try to make it work the way we want it to work," he said.

Some, he said, are hanging back and waiting to see whether the Legislature in the next two years knocks the requirement out of the A-Plus Plan, while others are being more pro-active.

In Hillsborough, the pay-for-performance proposal is one of a dozen now being negotiated with the district. Others include: paying more to teachers who get certified in areas with teacher shortages, such as special education; converting some teacher planning days to teaching days; and creating a program that would pair less experienced teachers with more experienced ones. Taken together, the proposals would cost $80-million, union officials estimate.

Binnie, of the school district, said, "It's a huge amount of money, but it's a huge school system, and it takes a large amount of fuel to keep it running."

The district and union are not expected to reach any agreement until after this year's legislative session when Tallahassee's allocation to the district is known.

School districts around the country have tried in the past to tie teacher pay to performance. In Hillsborough, for example, teachers with glowing assessments received better pay at one time. But the problem, Wilson said, was that pay was then tied to subjective judgments by principals, and the program was eliminated after a year.

The union's current proposal eliminates those problems by tying pay to student performance instead, Wilson says. "This is a stretch, but what we're trying to get is better working conditions for teachers." Moore, in Pinellas, sees things differently.

"I'm not ready to embrace those kinds of free-market ideas for the classroom where we are only supposed to have the objective of achieving excellence for every kid," he said.

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