Teacher pay plan raises inquiry

KSBP is proving costly and overdue

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More than a year behind schedule and up against make-or-break questions about affordability and structure, the teachers and administrators creating the Steamboat Springs School District's Knowledge- and Skills-Based Pay system find the plan at a crossroads.

What path the progressive system -- which seeks to pay teachers based upon their performance on rigorous evaluations -- takes largely is up to the School Board, whose members meet Monday to begin discussing the system and its estimated price tag.

The discussions follow a financial analysis of the KSBP system by a Denver-based auditor with expertise in school finances. The auditor, Doug Rose, told School Board members and others last week that the system could cost the district an average of $600,000 a year more than what the district currently pays for salaries. That increase, Rose concluded, will occur for the first 10 years KSBP is in place, after which the system will reach a stable state and maintain a steady cost into the future.

The analysis, and how the School Board responds to it, has left many KSBP committee members anxious and uncertain about the future of a system they've spent four years developing.

"Right now, I have more questions than answers," said committee member and first-grade teacher Celia Dunham.

School Board President Paula Stephenson said she's confident KSBP will be a part of the district's future.

"This isn't anything that anyone on the School Board wants to go away," she said.

But how the School Board will adjust the system to meet its expectations remains to be seen.

Adding a component to KSBP that measures student performance appears to be on the list of system needs for some School Board members, including Pat Gleason, who last week expressed that desire.

As it's currently set up, KSBP uses a series of observations and a detailed teacher portfolio to measure an employee's performance on more than a dozen specific standards. Each standard has four levels of attainment, and it's thought that a teacher's overall score on the various standards will determine where he or she is placed on KSBP's pay scale.

Gleason thinks student achievement, such as scores on assessment tests, also should be used to evaluate teachers.

KSBP committee member Mike Knezevich said student achievement has never been a part of KSBP because it previously was addressed through the district's pay for performance bonus system, which paid teachers extra money depending on whether students met school goals for the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. Other achievements also were a part of the bonus system.

Now pay for performance is no longer in use.

"I think some of the rules have changed as we've gone along," Knezevich said. "We felt pay for performance was in place, and we didn't need to go that direction."

Adding a student achievement piece to KSBP won't be easy. The district doesn't have student assessment tests for most content areas, and those tests would be needed before a student accountability piece could be added.

Other issues that may be addressed in the near future include compensation for district employees who work extra time on committees and other school-related groups.

Dunham told School Board members last week that her four years of work on KSBP have taken a professional toll on her.

"It has been a long process," Dunham said. "I want to stay a strong professional while I'm working on this. There's a point at which you don't feel like you're doing a good job with anything."

Committee members also worry about waning interest in the system from their fellow teachers and support staff members. The original KSBP timeline called for the system to be in place by the beginning of the current school year. Realistically the system might not be in place until the 2005-06 school year, if then.

And because the original agreement between the district and its employees assumes the system would be completed for the 2003-04 school year, teachers and support staff will have to vote next spring whether to continue to support KSBP if it's not completed, Dunham said.

"Our hope is we'll have a plan to put before people, but who knows," she said.

Above all else, a discussion of KSBP's affordability will dictate what happens next.

Stephenson thinks the estimated costs predicted by Rose are feasible for the district provided KSBP is set up to be a stringent evaluator of personnel instead of a fast track to top salaries.

One of the district's options to help it afford KSBP during the 10-year implementation phase where costs will be highest is to ask voters to approve a mill-levy override that could provide the district up to $1.3 million a year.

"At some point in time, to make this work, we're going to have to go to the voters," Stephenson said.

Voters will want to see a more complete plan before they would consider approving it, Stephenson said. KSBP committee members are waiting for a signal from the School Board before they continue to move ahead with development.

"I'm afraid we're losing a little momentum," Knezevich said. "We need to make some decisions and get some feedback from the board. If we get the go ahead, we need a concentrated effort to finalize what the process will look like."

The School Board begins the KSBP discussions at Monday's meeting, and Stephenson and others said it will take more than one discussion at one meeting to determine the future direction of the pay system.

"How it all plays out, I don't know," Stephenson said. "Compromises are going to have to be made."

Scrapping the entire system isn't in the plans, she said.

"We've all worked too hard and too long to throw the baby out with the bath water."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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