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    Districts grapple with teacher-performance pay plans

    Each has to devise a fair system by June 2002 to reward outstanding teachers.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


    The highly controversial plan to tie 5 percent of teacher pay to student academic performance has been a study in stops and starts and misperceptions.

    Many districts thought a plan had to be in place this year. Districts scrambled to devise a system that accurately sized up teacher performance and was fair to everyone. But the law calls for a plan by June 2002, so now districts will have at least another year to work it out. Not that the task will be any easier next year.

    "The real challenge is that this is a different mindset," said David Binnie, assistant superintendent in charge of personnel for Hillsborough County schools. "This is not the way government pay generally works."

    That, of course, is the idea.

    In addition to the questions about when the plan was to take effect, there was widespread belief that teachers could gain or lose 5 percent of their pay based on factors such as student performance on the FCAT test. The law was rewritten last year to include the word "supplement," to make it clear that the plan was not intended to take money out of anyone's paycheck.

    "They definitely changed that for clarification," said Yvonne Lyons, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. "Taking money away from teachers? I don't think that would be good for anybody."

    But some educators point out that if there is no new money to go with the performance pay supplements, ultimately it is penalizing some teachers.

    "If I don't get the supplement, and you get it, I'm being penalized," said Carl Harner, executive director for the teachers unions in Citrus and Hernando counties.

    The idea is that the 5 percent supplements must be taken out of the money set aside for teacher salaries. There's only so much salary money to go around, so if some teachers get a 5 percent boost, the others subsidize that pay boost.

    The intent behind the law is to make teacher pay more like compensation in private business; the best teachers would be rewarded for performance.

    "It was supposed to make it where there was a reward, a financial reward, for your best teachers -- just like a private business would do," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

    That's not an easy thing to accomplish. For years public school teacher salaries have been based on two factors: level of education and the number of years' experience. Job performance had little to do with pay.

    Simple as the concept might be, the implementation could be difficult, and each Florida school district has to devise a fair system to reward its outstanding teachers.

    "This has been pretty confusing from the start," said Harner. "This can't be like the GM model where everybody is working with the same materials. How do we design a system that's fair? That's the big question."

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