Idaho Teachers To Get Performance Bonuses, Despite Proposition 2 Repeal

Idaho Teachers To Get Performance Bonuses Despite Voter Repeal

TWIN FALLS -- Even though voters overturned the Students Come First laws, teachers who earned merit pay during the last school year can expect a payment by Dec. 15.

The Idaho State Department of Education announced Tuesday that 499 schools around the state qualified to receive pay-for-performance money.

A total of $38 million will go out Thursday to school districts and public charter schools. From there, it will be passed out to teachers. About 8 of every 10 educators earned bonuses, according to Tuesday's announcement.

In a legal opinion made public Monday, Deputy Attorney General Andrew Snook wrote that there doesn't appear to be any legal obstacle to school districts distributing bonuses to educators.

"It is recommended that this ministerial responsibility be completed as efficiently as practical," he wrote.

Merit Pay Law Could Return

Even though voters decided "no" on Proposition 2 -- the law that covered pay-for-performance -- a merit pay system could return in the future.

At a press conference Monday, public schools chief Tom Luna told reporters he hopes to resurrect a portion of his Students Come First package during the 2013 legislative session, including merit pay.

"We're not going to go to the Legislature and propose legislation that is so controversial that it's going to drive the same kind of emotion you've seen in the past couple years," Luna said. "But there are things that we all agree are good parts of the legislation."

Educators already Twin Falls Superintendent Wiley Dobbs said he felt his school district created a strong plan for how merit pay would be awarded locally based on student achievement.

But he said the state's portion of the system had flaws.

"There were areas that we felt needed to be worked on," Dobbs said.

For instance, he said he's not aware of any alternative schools around the state where teachers will receive pay-for-performance money.

But he said some of the best teachers work at those schools.

"I'm quite sure that if we go on with pay-for-performance in the state, some tweaks to the law are going to be needed," Dodds said.

Darin Gonzales, a math teacher at Kimberly High School, said if legislators look at bringing back a merit pay system, they need to start by talking with teachers.

Once the Students Come First system was discussed at the school level, Gonzales said the holes were apparent.

"The saddest part of this whole thing is that there are some very good teachers out there who will not receive bonuses," he said.

In Kimberly, all three schools will receive pay-for-performance money.

Schools Call System Divisive

Under the system voters just threw out, educators had to meet both state and local goals in order to receive merit pay.

State benchmarks were based on student performance and growth on the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests.

Local benchmarks were determined by each school district and ranged from student attendance to graduation rates.

The combination appears to have left many teachers and administrators frustrated.

Gooding Superintendent Heather Williams said she thinks the state's model doesn't adequately address the contributions teachers make.

All of the teachers in the Gooding School District earned some portion of extra pay under their local plan.

But teachers at only one school -- Gooding Middle School -- will actually receive merit pay. That's because it's the only school that earned state shares.

Meanwhile, teachers at Gooding High School have made "adequate yearly progress"under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for five years. And the school ranked the highest out of Gooding's schools on the state's new five-star rating system.

"The pay for performance system is divisive to our district as a whole when we have worked hard to have our teachers collaborate and work together on progress as a preK-12 system," Williams wrote in an email to the Times-News.

Williams said it's frustrating to hear that "the most effective" or "all great" teachers will receive financial rewards.

In Jerome, the only school that will receive merit pay is Jerome Middle School.

Middle school teacher Jolene Dockstader said she's glad pay-for-performance money is being distributed, but it won't bring teacher salaries back up to where they were four years ago.

And middle school teachers in Jerome are disappointed, she said, that other teachers in the school district won't receive merit pay.

"There are very fine teachers in our district that could be held up to any measuring stick and yet they will not be receiving (pay-for-performance)," she wrote in an email. ___

(c)2012 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)

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