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District adopts incentive pay for teachers

More than $3 million is coming to School District 833 with all of it going to teachers in the form of "incentives."

Politicians refer to it as "merit pay," a term educators reject. In Minnesota it is called an Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System or "Q-Comp."

During the last legislative session, lawmakers, with the support of the governor, provided funding for the system. Lawmakers want schools to move toward a pay system with emphasis on incentives for teachers to become more effective rather than a system that rewards based on senority.

Districts with incentive plans moved to the head of the line and District 833 is among 25 others with plans approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The United Teachers of South Washington County approved the plan Sept. 28 and the school board approved it the next day.

The most important change for teachers is in the way they are paid.

Teachers are given raises, according to the contract in effect, if they achieve advanced college credits. That part of the contract will continue.

The old plan also had raises, or "steps," for each year of teaching.

Steps are nearly the same in compensation as in the old contract but they are earned by Performance Increments, not by longevity.

"It's a dramatic change in perspective," said School District Attorney Mark Porter, also head of human resources, who negotiated the changes with Patti Diamond, teacher's union president, and members of the bargaining unit.

To achieve a step, teachers are observed three times during the school year by other teachers who have agreed to be observers. Observers fill out four-point "progress reviews" that include rating a teacher's degree of planning and preparation, classroom environment and instruction and professional responsibility.

Teachers can choose not to have peer reviews but they will not be given the raises on the step scale.

The system does not replace existing evaluations by building principals.

The system is building-based, according to Porter. Teachers within a building will be observing teachers in that building.

Diamond said incentive-pay guidelines are specified by the Minnesota Department of Education. To receive additional money, the new teachers' agreement must include goal setting, peer coaching and observation, professional development and salary reform.

State money, based on the number of students, will continue every year, according to Diamond.

"I wish it would be money on the general fund, but it's not," Diamond said. "We had to work within the parameters. It's money from the state. It's our responsibility to try and acquire that."

District teachers are already meeting some of the state requirements, Diamond said. "We all set goals for our classrooms and our buildings," she said.

The rules for peer observation are based "on defined and objective criteria," she said. "Colleagues are harder on each other than someone from the outside would be. It's a system for growth."

Teachers may be released from some classroom time to do peer reviews, but they'll also use prep periods that are already built into the school day for the reviews, said the district's communications director, Barb Brown.

Teachers can also earn an additional $1,125 by attending three days of professional development. The first is on Oct. 19 when building staff members will meet to set achievement goals and decide how to measure progress.

The other days are June 11 and 12, after the school year has ended. Teachers who choose not to attend don't receive incentive pay.

Though experienced teachers are paid more in salaries, Diamond said, the flat rate for the additional days is based on treating all teachers equally. It's also to reward teachers for having three additional days added to the school calendar.

The third part of the plan is a structure to support professional development that includes 365 teacher "leadership opportunities."

There are 11 slots for Data and Student Support leaders who would be released from half of their classroom time. Teachers will collect, interpret and evaluate student data for the purpose of working with teachers to target strategies and interventions for students.

Most of the time, teachers will be collecting and analyzing data in the buildings where they are teaching, according to Porter.

One teacher at each of the 21 buildings will get $562.50 to review building goals and judge appeals for disputed peer observations.

Elementary Curriculum Leaders, two per building, can earn $562.50 as peer observers.

Secondary Department Leaders, 56 teachers, can earn from $562.50 to $1,687.50 to advance department goals, lead department meetings and do peer observations.

Site Team Leaders, 110 teachers at $562.50 each, will develop school improvement plans and improve communication.

Eighteen teachers, at $562.50 each, will be needed to identify gifted and talented students, promote programs for gifted and talented students and work with program coordinators at the district level.

One teacher, for $562.50 at each school, will do work based on needs of schools as established by building teams.

When individual teacher goals are met, they earn $100. If building goals are met, teachers earn an additional $300 and $100 more if a district goal is met.

An example of a teacher goal might be for first-graders to identify 90 out of 100 most commonly used words by the end of the school year.

A building goal might be to increase Minnesota Comprehensive Achievement scores from 78 percent to 80 percent.

The district goal will be achieved when it is in the top 10 schools in the state based on similar demographics and MCA test scores.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600