District's pay system questioned

Pay for performance examined

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— Everybody likes an end-of-the-year bonus, and Steamboat Springs School District teachers and staff are no different. But four years after a pay-for-performance system was adopted by the school district, one thing has become clear -- the system needs to change.

Such was the message Tuesday, when administrators, teachers, school board members and community representatives met to discuss the status and future of pay for performance.

"The future of pay for performance is getting a serious look," Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis said. "It seemed there were quite a few concerns about pay for performance. I think everyone is not necessarily convinced that pay for performance works well for public education."

School Board President Paul Fisher agreed the system needs to change.

"We all agreed at the (Tuesday) retreat that pay for performance as it exists today is not a perfect design," Fisher said. "We need to evolve it and make it better."

The bonus system uses student performance on Colorado Student Assessment Program standardized tests to determine how much bonus money will be awarded each year. At the beginning of each school year, School Accountability Committees set CSAP goals for each grade level at each school. A District Accountability Committee approves those goals, as does the school board.

But many teachers believe there needs to be tools besides the CSAP to evaluate student performance, Superintendent Cyndy Simms said.

"We have a huge concern among our teachers that everything we do is about the tests," Simms said.

Some teachers think pay for performance is divisive and, by its nature, can't be fair and equitable, teacher's association President Mike Smith said. These teachers say an unfair burden is placed on those who teach reading, writing and math -- the subjects tested by the CSAP.

"Where (teachers) want to see pay for performance go, we really haven't decided yet," Smith said. "We have to work with the community and the district to come up with something that works for everyone."

In addition to CSAP results, bonuses are rewarded based on how well schools teach their students the virtues and success and self-understanding goals defined by school board policy.

Measuring such unquantifiable traits as respect for self and others, honesty, integrity, curiosity, collaboration and self-motivation is a struggle for the community audit teams, which each year are assigned the unenviable task. The community audit teams don't like their role as the sole determining factor in the virtues and success and self-understanding evaluation, District Accountability Committee chairwoman Deb Jansen said.

This year, the District Acc ountability Committee may instead use reports from both the School Accountability Committees and the community audit teams to determine how well schools taught virtues and success and self-understanding concepts, and as a result, how much bonus money each teacher should be awarded. Still, the system needs to improve, Jansen said.

"We'd like the board to look at ways to make this program work," she said.

How to improve the system, though, is a question no one seems to know the answer to.

"I don't know where it will go," Simms said. "This model has its problems, but should it just be thrown out the window, or should we see if we can fix it?"

Eliminating pay for performance could create a problem in itself, Education Fund Board President Jim Gill said.

"The last time we asked the voters to support the half-cent sales tax, clearly and without question, creating an incentive-based system for the employees of the district was what the voters asked for," Gill said. "If we're going to change it, we need to go back to the voters and say, 'This isn't going to work, and here's why.'"

The Education Fund Board, which allocates money generated from the city's half-cent sales tax, funds the yearly pay-for-performance bonuses. The money needed to pay the bonuses has increased every year since the system was implemented. This year, if all school goals are met, total bonuses could amount to nearly $400,000.

Pay-for-performance bonuses, which are awarded to teachers and staff at the end of each school year, differ from the proposed Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay plan. KSBP is a new salary schedule, not a bonus compensation system.

There has been discussion of relying solely on KSBP -- which hasn't been finalized, much less approved by district employees -- but the concern is that KSBP doesn't have a tool to measure student performance.

"Right now, KSBP is being designed to motivate staff to develop skills and knowledge required to maximize student success," Fisher said. "KSBP doesn't measure the end result. If pay for performance goes away, we need something to measure the results."

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