The Steamboat Springs School Board is right to stand by the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay Plan, even though a consultant has said the plan could cost the district an extra $600,000 per year in salaries.
KSBP was approved two years ago as a novel and innovative way to reward and pay teachers. Currently, teacher pay is tied primarily to longevity, not necessarily performance in the classroom. While there is no disputing that school districts benefit from veteran teachers, it also should be clear that time served is not always the best measure of teaching.
The school district has been working more than two years to develop the KSBP plan. The plan would create a tiered program in which teacher pay is tied to performance. The system creates four levels of teachers, and teachers can advance up the ladder through performance evaluations, portfolios of work and other measurements. Theoretically, a teacher could advance to the maximum pay level in eight years, whereas it would take a teacher more than 20 years to reach maximum pay on the longevity schedule.
The problem is, if all teachers are meeting the criteria for higher levels of pay, it's going to cost the district more in salaries and make it more difficult for the school district to meet its budget.
Doug Rose, a financial auditor who reviewed the district's proposed pay system, projected that it will cost the district an average of $608,000 more per year in salaries for each of the next 10 years before the system stabilizes. To offset this cost, the district would have to encourage turnover of teachers at the highest end of the pay scale and replace them with teachers at the lowest end. That would seem to work at cross-purposes with the KSBP mission.
It is a little unsettling that this financial analysis was not available two years ago when the School Board and teachers agreed on the KSBP pay structure. Having such costs available may have changed those outcomes.
Certainly the school district isn't prepared to take on an additional $600,000 per year. The district just survived a legislative scare that almost cost it the half-cent sales tax for education, and with enrollment flat or declining, funding is on the decrease.
That said, the School Board had the right response to the auditor's numbers. Board President Paula Stephenson said, "I think we have a lot of room to maneuver." Added board member Pat Gleason, "We need to make sure the original intent is still going to be addressed, and I don't have any doubt it will be."
Gleason and Stephenson are right. The school district has invested too much time and effort into KSBP to scrap it now. The $600,000 presents a challenge, but it is not an obstacle.
There are other models the district can look to, such as the recent pay program adopted by the Denver school district in which the reward system is not attached to the salary schedule, giving the district flexibility in lean years. Perhaps Steamboat Springs can adjust the proposed salary structure.
The cost analysis is a deterrent, for sure. But in the long-run, our school system and our school children will benefit when teachers are compensated primarily for demonstrated classroom performance and not just longevity.