The Steamboat Springs School District has a mess on its hands in trying to determine how to award financial bonuses to its teachers.
The best way out for the district is to reward teachers according to the rules it had in place for the 2002-03 school year and then scrap the existing system in favor of something better.
The district's pay-for-performance bonuses come out of half-cent sales tax funds overseen by the Education Fund Board. The bonuses are based on three objectives: teaching virtues; teaching success and self-understanding; and student performance on the Colorado Student Assessment Program test. The School Accountability Committee for each campus sets goals for the school. If the District Accountability Committee determines the school goals were met, all teachers at the school receive equal monetary bonuses.
This year, a problem has risen at Strawberry Park Elementary School. According to CSAP scores released last week, Strawberry Park missed its goal of having 80 percent of its students score proficient or better on the writing test; only 79.67 percent hit the mark.
In reviewing the scores, some members of the DAC argued the scores should be rounded up to 80 percent. Principal John DeVincentis said the state will amend the results to exclude scores of students who came to the school after Oct. 1, which will push the school above the 80 percent mark.
But Superintendent Donna Howell noted that if the district chooses to use the state's formula to tabulate Strawberry Park's CSAP results, it must use the same formula for each of the other schools, which could result in decreased percentages and a loss of bonus money.
There are other issues. For example, High School Principal Dave Schmid noted that while his school fell short of its goal on the math CSAP by three percentage points, the school ranked in the top 10 percent statewide on the math test. Schmid said his teachers should be rewarded for such achievement .
Finally, finance Director Dale Mellor said there already is an $18,000 shortfall between the bonuses awarded and the amount the district budgeted. Changing the rules now could worsen that shortfall.
While we can sympathize and understand the arguments made by DeVincentis and Schmid, we believe the DAC should stick to the goals established and not award the bonuses in areas where schools did not meet the established goals. It would be wrong for the district to amend the way it historically has tabulated CSAP results, and 79.67 percent is not 80 percent.
Ultimately, this mess may be the final nail in the coffin for the existing pay-for-performance system. Teachers have complained that the system, heavily weighted toward CSAP scores, never provided them with incentive to be better classroom instructors. Citing such concerns, the Education Fund Board has chosen not to fund pay for performance for the 2003-04 school year until a new system is in place.
The Knowledge and Skills Based Pay plan teachers approved in 2002 could be the new system. The plan, which still is being written, would establish specific and objective goals for teachers to meet in order to earn higher salaries. That, more than using CSAP test results that individual teachers have little control over, seems to be the way to measure and reward teachers for their performance.