Teachers in a Michigan District Strike Over a Merit-Pay Plan
Detroit--Teachers in the Port Huron school district, a southeastern Michigan system enrolling 12,000 pupils, went on strike late last month over what is believed to be the first recent attempt in the state to implement a form of merit pay.
Under the school board's plan, called an "incremental earning proposal," teachers' annual increments, now automatically given for each additional year of service, would be awarded only to teachers completing a required amount of community service and other extracurricular activities.
The board's plan would require that teachers sign an agreement at the beginning of the school year to become involved in extra, nonpaid activities, according to a union official. Teachers could earn up to 20 points for activities ranging from completing college courses to coaching Little League baseball. Incremental pay would be withheld from teachers not earning 20 points by the end of the school year.
Furthermore, according to the board's plan, if a teacher did not comply with an agreement at least every two years, district officials would have "reasonable and just cause" for taking disciplinary action, including dismissal, a union spokesman said.
The school board, according to teachers' representatives, advanced the plan in the course of annual contract negotiations. School officials, under orders from a state mediator, have refused to discuss the plan, even to confirm its broad outlines.
Although the plan is being likened to the controversial idea of merit pay, Port Huron teachers are calling it a "demerit" plan.
"There is nothing in the proposal that recognizes excellence in the classroom," said Donald Aikins, a spokesman for the Port Huron Edu-cation Association. "I'm not saying community work doesn't make you a better person, but it doesn't make you a better teacher."
Richard Ringstrom, a Michigan Education Association representative for metropolitan Detroit, agreed. "It is a negative system. It is a punitive system. They're asking teachers to give up their time outside of and away from the classroom."
Mr. Ringstrom said the concept takes away the "little financial reward that has always been a part of teaching."
Teachers are not opposed to being involved in extracurricular activities, Mr. Aikins said, but they are opposed to being required to participate as a condition of an annual raise. The plan, he said, amounts to an attempt to force extra work out of the district's 658 teachers for free.
"It's not only illegal, but it's an insult, because many of our teachers do a lot of volunteer work anyway," he said.
The plan would allow teachers to earn five points for each of several off-duty, nonpaid activities, such as educational research, sponsorship of a school club, workshop attendance, and supervision of scout troops. Points could also be earned for leadership in educational organizations, with the exception of teachers' unions.
The teachers walked out on Aug. 24. Last Wednesday--two days after classes were scheduled to begin--a local judge ordered the teachers back to work. However, school officials said late Wednesday that they were unable to find union leaders to serve them with the order.
The strike is one of 16 currently under way in Michigan, affecting about 43,000 students and 2,000 teachers, union officials said. Last year there were 30 teachers' strikes in Michigan, the official said.