State BOE pay initiatives draw local concern
by JOYANNA LOVE, Banner Staff Writer
Jul 25, 2013 | 759 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bradley County Board of Education members have some concerns about implications of recent actions by the Tennessee State Board of Education.

The state BOE passed changes to the minimum required pay scale for teachers, compensation for those with advanced degrees and requirements for differentiated pay.

“I don’t like this at all. I think it’s a shame for our teachers,” board member Troy Weathers said at a recent work session. “We have teachers making nothing already and the state decides ... we’re going to take any initiative for you to stay with us for a long time. We’re going to go ahead and take that away from you, too.”

Weathers said the changes by the state board seem to place an emphasis on new teachers rather than honoring those who have been in education for many years.

“When that came out the department didn’t give us much of a forenotice,” Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said. “It came out a week before the state board meeting, and it was a little confusing.”

McDaniel emphasized the state salary schedule was simply the minimum school systems are required to pay.

Instead of yearly increases in pay, the state system for 2014-15 now has levels of compensation, McDaniel said.

“No presently employed teacher will earn less than they are currently making — they can only make more,” McDaniel said.

Local boards can use local funds to pay more than the schedule requires.

McDaniel said school directors and local board chairmen were not consulted for opinions before the changes were made.

Differentiated pay plans, which offer teachers in hard-to-staff areas or schools additional compensation, will be required to be submitted to the state.

“They are not providing a model. They are asking 30 systems to join a group to develop a plan. They have come around that they would like Bradley County to participate, if interested,” McDaniel said. “It might be good to be at the table to hear what they are talking about.”

McDaniel said he would like to participate in the planning group, as long as the school system would not be obligated to adopt a specific state-endorsed plan.

Board member Vicki Beaty said she would like for Bradley County to be represented in the planning.

The state is encouraging school systems to consider how a teacher’s students do on end-of-course tests as a factor in the system’s differentiated pay plan.

Beaty said she agrees with the state board that teachers with higher test scores should receive higher compensation.

“I just have an issue with the way that it was passed down from the state board. ... We should have had more input, not necessarily the board, but the teachers,” Beaty said.

Board member Chris Turner said he was not in favor of this because teachers do not get to pick their students. He gave the example of a teacher who chooses to teach inclusion classes because they feel called to that. These students will have lower test scores than a noninclusion classroom. If a plan based on test scores becomes the norm for incentive pay, these teachers would have less of a chance to receive increases, Turner said.

“Incentives are fine. If we have a school that is difficult to staff for whatever factors, we need to provide bonuses for people who stay there a lot of years,” Turner said.

However, Turner said he had concerns that incentive pay based on performance instead of years of experience could create competition among teachers.

Turner asked if the changes were being made to align the teacher pay schedule to more of a business model of merit-based incentive pay.

McDaniel said he thought it was part of the move toward having more charter schools and consideration of a waiver program.

He said research shows merit-based pay for educators “didn’t work.”

Turner expressed concern that the state board or legislature in the future would require the local boards to follow a state designed differentiated pay.

Bradley County Schools already offers incentive pay for advanced math and science teachers and those who hold a National Board Certification. These salary increases were made possible through Race to the Top funding.

“I don’t think the state is satisfied with the plan most systems came up with,” McDaniel said.

At the state level. the changes to the pay scale are being explained as eliminating steps to make funding available for differentiated pay plans at the local level. Local funding that once went to yearly increases could now be used for incentive pay. According to McDaniel, school systems will not receive state funds to implement a differentiated pay plan.

State increases for degrees higher than a master’s degree have also been eliminated.

Weathers said the changes to the pay schedule for advanced degrees may have a negative effect on the numbers of teachers pursuing doctorate degrees. Changing compensation for those degrees might also make it financially difficult for a teacher to pursue such a degree, he said. Local school systems will be able to offer higher compensation for these degrees, if they have funding to do so. Weathers said the board needs to make a decision on how it will move forward.

Bradley County Schools teachers’ starting pay is above the state requirement. McDaniel said the system tries to be competitive with other school systems in the areas.

Beaty suggested someone from the local board attend the state BOE work session each time. She said it would give the board a lot of information on what the state is planning.