Some JeffCo board members hostile to performance-based teacher pay plan

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Everything the Jefferson County Public Schools District Board of Education members ever learned, they learned in kindergarten.

Or at least that was the last time they discussed playing leapfrog quite as much as they did at their last regular meeting.

On Thursday, district human resources director Amy Weber frequently repeated her concern that the district is doing exactly that with its new teacher compensation packages.

“We are leap-frogging over our own employees,” Weber said. “It is pennywise and pound foolish that we have experienced people leaving our district, and we will have to pay more for new people to replace them.”

At issue was how to tweak a new compensation plan put in place earlier this fall by the board. The plan will reward teachers with higher pay based on performance rather than years of service and education, which is the standard protocol.

icon_orig_reportNew Pay Plan Fallout
Weber gave a 10,000-foot view of what had transpired since the initial decision. Most notably:
•    300 grievances have been filed against evaluations (less than 5 percent of the total).
•    60 percent of filed grievances have resulted in a change to a teacher’s rating
•    Additional compensation from those changes added $300,000 to total compensation.
•    $1.5 million was paid out in retroactive pay because the new system required additional time and teachers were not paid for September and October until November.

The 45-minute discussion drew the usual ire and hostile remarks from members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman. As usual, the remarks were aimed at members Julie Williams, Ken Witt, and John Newkirk, all of whom supported the plan. The three supporters periodically snapped back with their own observations.

It also drew the usual barrage of gasps and laughter from audience members — most of whom were teachers or representatives from the Jefferson County Education Association. Union representatives and backers appeared happy that Dahlkemper and Fellman continue to disrupt proceedings by name calling, talking over others, and repeating information to prevent board President Witt from moving forward with the meeting.

In the couple months following the new plan that resulted in hundreds of Jeffco teachers staging sickouts in opposition, some teachers continue to express dissatisfaction. Weber is worried the plan will stifle the district’s ability to hire new teachers for the coming year.

“New hires want to know what the pay looks like in Jeffco compared to others,” Weber said.

Teachers Matter
Witt said he continues to stand behind the plan and said teachers will continue to receive more pay as they continue do well on their evaluations. He took exception to Weber’s PowerPoint presentation about hiring teachers, which said: “If” having great teachers in every classroom matters. Witt asked her to change “If” to “Because.”

“That rubbed me so badly,” he said. “There is no question hiring great teachers in each classroom matters. Fix that.”

To which Dahlkemper fired back: “Does this compensation plan guarantee that we will have great teachers?”

“No,” Weber said.

Weber outlined the three key components she said needed to be looked at more in depth including a $38,000 starting point for new teachers that in some cases will put them in the same pay range as non-probationary teachers whose salaries have been frozen for the past couple of years.

“No teacher that was effective or highly effective last year did not receive a raise, correct?” Witt asked.

Weber said that was correct, but added that sometimes it’s not enough.

“Sometimes it’s not what I did get, but what the person behind me got,” Weber said is how these teachers feel, saying it’s not fair that a new hire should be at the same level as an experienced teacher. “It is not commensurate with someone at five years.”

Discussion of Degrees
The other two concerns were a performance stipend for those who have reached the top of the pay scale and paying certain teachers such as psychologists, social workers, counselors, and speech pathologists with master’s degrees higher than the $38,000 minimum.

“It is difficult to delineate what degrees improve results,” Weber said. “But at minimum we have to pay for a master’s degree when it requires a master’s degree to get the job. We are not competitive with these people. We have to pay three times the price for outside services because we don’t pay for those degrees. We require them to have it, but we don’t pay for it.”

Fellman said the district is on a slippery slope if they don’t start paying for all advanced degrees.

“Teachers have a pivotal role in increasing student achievement,” she said. “In most cases the learning they get from their master’s has helped them increase that achievement.”

A 2006 academic review of high-quality research found no studies that connect teacher master degrees with improved student learning. Yet the Left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates Colorado spent $230 million on extra teacher compensation for master’s degrees in the 2007-08 school year.

Dahlkemper said the plan was going to make it hard on the district to remain competitive.

“What doesn’t feel great to me is that the board broke a promise after two years,” she said.

Newkirk reminded Dahlkemper that he, Witt, and Williams were not on the board that decided to stop paying extra for degrees. She was.

“Why did you decide to do that?” he asked her.  “What was your rationale for not recognizing master’s degrees? I’m just curious about those broken promises for some of our audience members.”

Dahlkemper said it was a collaborative decision of the entire board on how they protected the classroom from budget cuts.

“It was for budgetary reasons,” she said.

She added nothing about this plan seems collaborative.

The board will take another look at the plan in January and give more direction at that time.

News story originally posted on Complete Colorado on December 12, 2014.