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Few Los Angeles Teachers Apply for Mentor-Teacher Plan

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Only 453 of the 25,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school system, have applied to a new California program intended to encourage top teachers to stay in the field.

Under a law passed last year, tenured teachers with "substantial recent" teaching experience and a proven ability to work with other teachers are eligible to apply to be "mentor teachers," who work with new or less experienced colleagues and receive a $4,000 salary bonus.

Under a state formula, the Los Angeles city school system has been allotted funds for 429 mentor-teacher positions, but officials say it is not likely to fill them this spring. There were only 60 applications for the 70 mentor-teacher positions reserved for high-school teachers.

School officials, teachers, and teachers' union leaders suggest a number of reasons for the poor response to the program.

According to Patricia Boerger, the official directing the program for the school system, "a lot of good teachers feel that they will not be as good if they take on added responsibilities, if they are pulled out of the classroom to work with other teachers."

"Also," she added, "people see no value in traveling 50 or 60 miles one way to work. The $4,000 will be eaten up in gas and wear and tear on their cars."

The Los Angeles City school system requires that mentor teachers be willing to transfer to schools that are "hard to staff."

"We are not worried about the number of teachers who applied," she said. "We knew the transfer requirement would knock a lot of people out. We are not in a scramble to fill the positions, we are after quality, not quantity. We're fully committed to the program."

"Some see the mentor-teacher plan as a form of merit pay and are opposed to it for that reason," said Michael B. Bennett, vice president of the United Teachers-Los Angeles. "Others didn't apply because of the tight time frame. And some are comfortable where they are and don't want to transfer."

"I know a lot of excellent people who just do not want to bother with it," he said.

Lack of Incentives

Susan S. Polep, an elementary-school teacher at Brentwood Science Magnet School, a school for gifted students, is one teacher who did not want to leave her current assignment and therefore did not apply to the program.

"I have no incentive to leave," she said. "The teaching opportunities I have here aren't offered anywhere else [in the school system]."

Day F. Higuchi is a reading teacher at D.W. Griffith Junior High School who is a member of one of 18 committees set up by the school sys-tem under state law to review applicants to the program. He expressed skepticism that the program could accomplish its primary goal--to encourage a cadre of top teachers to remain in the profession.

"The state is only providing enough money for 2 percent of the teachers in the state to become mentor teachers. As a result, the program doesn't offer a career rung for enough people to work as an effective incentive. It would have to provide money for 20 percent of the teachers to do that. As it is now, it's seen as elitist."

"But it is valuable," he said, "in that it is the first time teachers have been used in evaluating their peers. I'm just concerned that the program doesn't become another in a long line of perks handed out by administrators to teachers."

Under the California law setting up the mentor-teacher program, applicants are to be screened by 11-member panels that include six teachers who have been elected by their peers.

Applicants are judged on the basis of references, past evaluations, classroom visits, and interviews.

In Los Angeles, nominations from the 18 selection committees must be received by the board of education by May 25, according to Mr. Higuchi, who noted that there were only 14 applications for the 24 positions allocated to his committee.

The school board makes the final selection of mentor teachers.

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