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Full Union Backing May Hinge On Upcoming Vote on Funding

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Mary Hatwood Futrell's Jan. 27 speech to the Fairfax (Va.) Chamber of Commerce should give a major boost to the district's controversial performance-based pay plan. To be fully implemented, it must receive a substantial increase in funding from the school board next week.

In 1986, Superintendent Robert R. Spillane and the Fairfax Education Association agreed on a three-year plan to phase in pay for performance. Teachers accepted a five-point evaluation system, which has been put in place over the past two years, in exchange for a 30 percent across-the-board pay raise.

On Feb. 14, the school board will decide whether to approve funds for the last 8 percent of that increase. In addition, it will decide whether to spend $11.2 million in next year's budget to provide a 10 percent pay raise for teachers who rated highest under the performance-evaluation system. Teachers have not received any pay bonuses to date, although some top-ranking teachers have already been identified.

Walter J. Mika Jr., president of the fea, said there is "fairly universal support" for the across-the-board increase. But several board members have proposed scaling back the 10 percent figure for top-ranked teachers as "too high."

Critics of Mr. Spillane's proposal are instead pushing for a system of flat-rate bonuses, which could save the school system millions of dollars in retirement benefits.

Mr. Mika said a majority of teachers continue to support the performance-based-pay program, despite some reservations. "There's a lot of unhappiness out there about the kinds of pressures that this plan has brought in, and there are a lot of things that need to be worked on," he said.

Some teachers have complained that the evaluation system is too subjective, erodes morale, and stimulates unhealthy competition among teachers.

The union has also asked the superintendent to give greater autonomy to the Career Advancement Review Board, a seven-member panel that hears appeals by teachers who are upset with their evaluations.

Mr. Spillane has overruled the appeals panel in 9 of the 18 cases in which it ruled in favor of teachers, according to Mr. Mika. In her speech last month, Ms. Futrell said the board "both needs and deserves greater autonomy."

Mr. Mika warned last week that unless the school board approves full funding for the program, the union may cease to support it. "We've lived up to our part of the bargain, and we believe that they should live up to theirs," he said.

Ms. Futrell has quietly praised the Fairfax initiative for several years, because of its emphasis on teacher involvement, its provision of across-the-board pay hikes, and its lack of a quota system. The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the aft, has consistently opposed the plan.--lo

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