With its innovative Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay program, the Steamboat Springs School District is asking its teachers to take a gamble, but it's a gamble that, if implemented correctly, will pay off for good teachers and the community.
To implement it correctly and to ease teachers' concerns about potential inequities in the new system, the district must first be honest with its employees about how much money is available and exactly how the performance-based pay plan will work.
A committee of district administrators and staff working to develop the system hopes to have a formalized plan in time for a spring vote. Before that can happen, though, several critical issues need to be resolved and receive support from teachers, administrators and the community.
Chief among those issues is the financing.
Mike Smith, former president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, said teachers accepted the plan last year with the understanding that there would be no limits on the number of deserving teachers it would pay at the top end of the KSBP system -- up to $68,000 per year.
However, at a retreat last week, School Board members worried the system could bankrupt the district if too many teachers achieve the high-end salaries. The board raised the possibility of giving the superintendent veto powers to block teachers from moving up the pay scale if the district can't afford that increase.
In a system where fairness -- both in evaluating teachers for pay increases and in granting those increases when criteria are met -- is crucial, the district cannot set a goal for teachers to strive toward and then withhold pay raises when those standards are met.
Instead, the district must be honest with its employees about what is reasonable and practical to accomplish within its existing personnel budget, and then, as School Board President Paul Fisher said, manage KSBP so that the answer to the financial dilemma comes from the system itself.
That means following hiring practices that ensure the district has a financially sustainable mix of newer, less experienced teachers and top-level teachers, and that incoming teachers are hired at a pay level that makes room for the best teachers to achieve the district's highest salaries.
That also means creating KSBP standards that are easier to attain at the basic levels but less so as the system progresses. At the top level, the standards should be high enough that only the district's elite teachers achieve its elite salaries, and that they naturally comprise only a small percentage of the overall staff.
In a system designed to encourage professional development and high performance, setting rigorous standards is not something teachers should fear, and it's something the community should support.
If KSBP is implemented properly, the only people who will lose in this gamble are educators banking on pay raises because of the quantity of their years worked rather than the quality of their teaching. They are the ones the district can afford to lose.