Lack of funding may doom school pay plan

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— The failings of the pay-for-performance system itself have put the program's future in doubt, but it is a lack of funding that could spell its doom.

The Educational Excellence Commission, an arm of the Education Fund Board, voted against requesting funding for pay for performance at its meeting last week. The commission will present its funding recommendations to the Fund Board tonight.

"We will not present (a pay for performance) recommendation," commission chair Paul Sachs said. "We can't change our mind now without a meeting."

The commission supports the concept, but the current plan has left it little choice, Sachs said.

"I think everyone in the commission has always been interested in a pay-for-performance plan, but not in spending money on a system that everyone agrees is not doing what it's supposed to," Sachs said.

Fund Board bylaws stipulate that all funding allocations must be made from commission requests, and the absence of a pay-for-performance request could eliminate the system.

The Fund Board has until the end of March to allocate revenue generated by the city's half-cent sales tax. The end-of-month deadline leaves little time for the Educational Excellence Commission to reverse course and request the estimated $400,000 needed to fund pay for performance next year.

Although this year's Fund Board meeting schedule provides only one opportunity for each commission to present its first-reading recommendations, nothing in Fund Board bylaws prevents additional first readings before funding allocation.

So, technically, after submitting recommendations at tonight's meeting that do not support pay for performance, the Education Excellence Commission could decide at its next meeting, March 12, to reverse its position and request funding for the program. In that scenario, the commission would have to return to the Fund Board and ask for another first reading before the end of March to request the necessary $400,000.

Steamboat Springs Education Association President Mike Smith has spearheaded an effort to rework the bonus compensation system by assembling a committee of representatives from the school district, Education Fund Board, Educational Excellence Commission, Board of Education and District Accountability Committee.

The ad hoc committee will meet Thursday to begin discussing ways to fix pay for performance, but its work may be fruitless if the Educational Excellence Commission doesn't recommend funding the system before the end of March.

Smith said he'd like to give the committee a chance to work toward a better pay-for-performance plan before funding is pulled.

"Now we've got a committee together to try to get a plan in place within the next two months," Smith said. "All I'm asking for is two months to get a plan in place. If we can do it, fund us. If we can't, the money's open to another project."

Pay for performance was implemented in the 1999-2000 school year as a way to measure student performance, hold the district accountable for student achievement and reward hard-working teachers.

The current system rewards teachers schoolwide for student performance on Colorado Student Assessment Program standardized tests. Bonuses also are awarded based on how well schools teach their students the virtues and success and self-understanding goals defined by school board policy.

However, many teachers believe tools besides the CSAPs are needed to evaluate student performance. Also, it is nearly impossible to measure unquantifiable success and self-understanding and virtues goals such as integrity, honesty and curiosity.

"We've got to be able to have broader-based goals than just CSAP and more measurable goals than self-understanding and virtues," Smith said.

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