Task force on teacher pay incentives in begins

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — Despite teachers’ concerns about its implementation, North Carolina public school educator pay raises ultimately will shift toward rewarding individual performance, a key state lawmaker predicted Tuesday.

The comments by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, an education budget-writer, came at the first meeting of a task force considering how to identify and reward effective educators. The panel of General Assembly members, teachers group leaders, education experts and parents is supposed to make recommendations to the legislature by mid-April.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory have pledged to pass a law when lawmakers reconvene in May that will raise the salaries of the newest teachers to $35,000 in two phases by fall 2015. McCrory and other Republicans have insisted more pay raises are ahead for more experienced teachers when revenues are available.

From then on, however, “large across-the-board and step increases are probably not going to happen,” task force co-chairman Tillman told the rest of the panel.

“But there’ll be many incentives in there for contributing to the goals of your school, to being a good team member. ... But the most important is what are you doing with the kids you’re teaching,” he added.

Salaries for teachers, principals and instructional staff are now based on years of experience, advanced degrees or certifications and, for administrators, the size of the school. For example, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 years of experience receives a base salary of $37,110. That doesn’t count longevity pay and supplements from local districts, which can add thousands of dollars annually.

Finding a better way to link teacher and administrator performance to salaries has been a hot topic since Republicans took over the legislature in 2011. Teachers in an entire school used to get annual bonuses based on cumulative standardized test scores, but those ABCs of Public Education payments ended several years ago.

The GOP-led legislature passed a law last year offering bonuses starting this fall to those who are deemed the 25 percent most effective teachers in a district in exchange for their giving up job-protecting tenure status. Supporters have labeled the change a way to reward the best classroom educators during the period while tenure is phased out by 2018. The law is being challenged in court.

Successful schools depend on teachers and administrators working together, said Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina and a task force member. Creating competition between teachers for higher pay can break down that collegiality, she said.

“Most teachers work as a group, and they share ideas among each other,” said Kidd, who teaches at Charlotte’s Independence High School. “So when you start rewarding one person versus another, then it can create some disruption.”

Tillman said any future teacher pay evaluation would include a component measuring whether their students are improving on standardized tests.

“I can’t for the life me see how anybody can fight that,” he said. “If you do, you’re fighting a losing battle.”

Kidd said teachers question the reliability of standardized test scores or graduation rates to determine the best schools. House Republicans, who have been more interested in raising base salaries, also will have a say on the future of incentive pay.

Tuesday’s discussion included presentations of local district pay incentive plans.

The Mission Possible program within the Guilford County Schools provides bonuses of up to $5,000 a year for math and science and upper-level elementary school teachers, as well individual performance incentives up to $15,000. School district talent development executive director Amy Holcombe credits the initiative for increasing teacher retention as well as student performance and graduation rates.

“When you can recruit and retain highly effective teachers in your schools, you have teachers who will not let students fail,” Holcombe said.

Pitt County school leaders said they were going back to the drawing board with a financial incentive plan that moved high-performing teachers into low-performing schools. Although student scores improved, the program spurred mistrust as new teachers arrived in the low-performing schools, the leaders said.

Task force speakers said rural districts were at a funding disadvantage to create educator incentives. Tillman suggested creating matching state funds that local districts could tap into for such initiatives.