Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Thumbs Down on Teachers' New Bonus Plan?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Thumbs Down on Teachers' New Bonus Plan?

Article excerpt


Members of the Clay County Education Association and Clay County School Board will vote next month on the latest incarnation of a long-awaited merit pay plan.

But the leadership of the teachers union is opposed to the plan, and school district officials are not even sure that state-allocated funds to pay the bonuses will materialize.

Since last spring, school district administrators have been working in conjunction with the union on the local version of the state Merit Award Program, successor to the controversial Special Teachers are Rewarded (STAR) program the Legislature enacted in 2006 and killed earlier this year.

The statewide teachers union and associations representing local school boards and superintendents criticized STAR for being too rigid and relying too heavily on test scores, among other things.

But figuring out how to fairly award bonuses under the new plan also has been a challenge, said Toni McCabe, Clay's assistant superintendent for human resources.

"We tried to completely level the playing field, but by nature this is somewhat subjective," she told School Board members at a meeting Sept. 17.

The plan's subjectivity, still-heavy reliance on test scores and minimal benefits are the leading reasons the Clay teachers union leadership has taken an opposing stand, said president Constance Higginbotham.

"We've done everything we could to make it palatable but it's not," she said. "It's worse than the other version."

The new Merit Award Program allows school districts to provide bonuses from 5 to 10 percent of the average teacher pay. In Clay, it's 5 percent, about $2,200. All instructional personnel and school-based administrators are eligible.

The bonuses will be awarded based on student achievement and teacher performance appraisals - 60 percent of the formula is how well students do on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and other standardized exams, 40 percent is how well educators do on evaluations by principals or supervisors.

To make the process as equitable as possible, educators who do the same sorts of functions will be grouped into what McCabe called "silos" and ranked based on the 60-40 formula. …

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