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Iowa Lawmakers Take Aim at Performance Pay for Teachers

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A performance-based pay program for teachers championed by Gov. Terry E. Branstad is under attack in the Iowa legislature.

The most serious proposal to change the $41-million program, known as Phase III, calls for $32 million of the money to go to pay teachers for five extra working days, without extending students' school year.

The proposal, sponsored by Senator Michael W. Connolly, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was approved by that panel and sent to the full Senate this month.

After a number of amendments were added on the Senate floor, Mr. Connolly pulled his bill temporarily. Nevertheless, he said he still hopes to get the measure passed before the current legislative session ends in late April.

With the state in the midst of a budget crunch, meanwhile, other lawmakers have suggested transferring Phase III funding to noneducational programs.

Extra Duties Rewarded

Phase III is part of a 1987 initiative designed to raise teacher pay. Phase I increased starting pay, while Phase II was intended to retain good teachers by raising overall salaries. But the largest chunk of money under the initiative went to Phase III, which seeks to encourage innovation and teacher improvement.

According to Bill Sherman, a public-relations specialist for the Iowa State Education Association, almost no school districts have earmarked the money for traditional merit pay, which rewards individual teachers who perform well.

Instead, teachers have been paid primarily for taking on extra duties, such as designing new curricula and course materials, or participating in staff-development and other workshops.

Districtwide committees of educators, parents, and community members help design and approve plans to spend Phase III money.

Mr. Connolly, a teacher, said his bill addresses criticisms of the program raised by members of the education community. People in many districts have complained that teachers are being pulled out of the classroom to participate in Phase III projects, he noted, adding that teachers also have objected to the amount of overtime needed to complete projects.

Mr. Connolly said his legislation would help allay those concerns by giving teachers more time outside of class to work on activities designed to reform and improve their schools.

Mr. Branstad is expected to fight attempts to alter Phase III, although a spokesman said the Governor has not indicated if he would veto any legislation mandating changes.

The state's powerful teachers' union also opposes changing the program. "We would prefer that Phase III funds be kept available for use by individual districts and maintain the program that way,'' said Mr. Sherman of the I.S.E.A. "We will resist any efforts to funnel that money to other program areas.''

Court Case Affects Outlook

Mr. Connolly's legislation may be designed in part to stave off attempts to take the Phase III money away from education entirely, Mr. Sherman suggested.

The pressure to use the funds for something else could get significantly stronger depending on the outcome of a case currently before the state supreme court. The court is to decide whether state employees are entitled to a 5 percent pay raise awarded by an arbitrator.

A decision upholding the raise will further strain the state budget and put more pressure on lawmakers to raise taxes or cut programs such as Phase III.

In that event, the I.S.E.A. is pushing a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax, which Mr. Sherman said would pay for continued funding of Phase III as well as raises for state employees and increased state spending on education.

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