Howell: KSBP should be altered

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The existing salary structure for a proposed evaluation-based compensation system isn't affordable for the Steamboat Springs School District and must be altered to be sustainable, Superintendent Donna Howell said this week.

Howell's assertion comes amid serious district discussions about the Knowledge- and Skills-Based Pay system's future after a financial analysis estimated it would cost the district an extra $600,000 for each of the first 10 years after implementation. The analysis also suggested that higher staff turnover rates would be necessary to keep KSBP's costs stable in the future.

School Board members and district employees agree that higher turnover rates go against one of the fundamental goals of KSBP, which is recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers.

But there also is concern among some School Board members that, absent a control mechanism that limits the number of teachers and support staff who advance to the highest salary levels, the system won't reach a steady state of affordability.

Recognizing that a control mechanism violates a core concept of KSBP, Howell said the district needs to look at another way to compensate its employees.

"I do not believe the system that was voted on (in 2002) for implementation is affordable and sustainable based upon the financial analysis," Howell said Tuesday.

Howell will suggest to the School Board that it look at an alternative compensation system that doesn't base entire salaries on an evaluation.

"(But) ultimately the School Board will make that decision," she said.

No specific alternatives

The School Board, teachers and support staff voted in favor of a multiyear competitive compensation plan in June 2002. The plan was heralded as an opportunity for teachers and staff to earn competitive salaries, attain higher levels of pay quicker than traditional teacher pay schedules and motivate teachers to improve and remain in the district. It also was determined by former Superintendent Cyndy Simms and Finance Director Dale Mellor to be affordable.

But while the salary figures were in place when the plan was approved, missing was the specific evaluation system and criteria to be used to evaluate teachers and staff and place them at appropriate salary levels.

A KSBP committee has spent the past couple of years developing the evaluation system, and several sizable issues remain unsolved or incomplete before the system can be put to the School Board and district employees for a vote. The system was expected to be in place by the beginning of this school year, but some KSBP committee members doubt the plan will be finished and ready for a vote and implementation before the 2005-06 school year.

That timetable and even the future of KSBP could be put in jeopardy if the School Board agrees with Howell that a different salary structure needs to be explored. KSBP is designed to base a teacher's salary on the results of his or her evaluation, which examines his or her knowledge and skills in specific teaching standards. Once implemented, teachers would be placed into the KSBP salary structure at the pay level closest to their salary under the traditional pay schedule. But unlike traditional salary schedules, teachers could quickly advance and even skip pay levels based upon their performance under KSBP.

Howell said she doesn't have specific ideas about what a different compensation could be, but she said the district should look at its options and find or develop one that works well for Steamboat.

Salary structures used in other progressive teacher pay systems include an add-on system that would provide teachers and staff with a bonus -- in addition to their base salary -- dependent upon their performance on evaluations. Denver Public Schools teachers recently approved a compensation system that will reward them for student performance on tests as well as other factors, including the willingness to teach at poor-performing schools.

'We're not throwing it away'

Howell said a possible change to KSBP's salary structure doesn't mean the system as a whole, including its evaluation aspect, will be scrapped.

"We're not throwing it away," Howell said. "It's better to make a midcourse correction and benefit from the experiences of other people working on these systems than to put something in place that's not sustainable."

KSBP committee member and high school teacher Mike Smith was surprised by Howell's comments.

"This is something we're going to have to discuss," he said. "If we're going back to negotiations for a change in the salary schedule, that would require a lot of work."

He said he was unsure whether members of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, which represents about 90 percent of district teachers, are even willing to discuss a change to KSBP's salary structure.

In addition, teachers likely would be unwilling to invest the time in a lengthy and rigorous evaluation process if it wasn't the "high stakes" system it currently is set up to be. A change in the salary schedule would necessitate a change in the evaluation system, Smith said.

"I understand the frustration that's being voiced," Howell said. "At the time (it was approved in 2002) the system was viewed as affordable. The fiscal environment has changed."

Smith thinks the financial analysis shows KSBP is affordable, particularly if the district can come up with revenue to cover the 10-year transition phase. After that, it's difficult to know how the system will turn out, he said.

School Board members -- like teachers and support staff -- want a plan they know will last into the future, Howell said, and she questions whether the current system will achieve that goal.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss KSBP at its Monday meeting.

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