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Colo. Districts Ponder Plan To Link Pay, Performance

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A dozen or more Colorado school districts are considering plans to link teachers' pay to performance, primarily as a result of public pressure and state policies supporting new salary schemes.

While several districts have already been studying alternative pay for over a year, new developments in teacher licensure and a push from some state lawmakers to do away with the traditional salary schedule appear to have encouraged other districts to jump on the bandwagon as well.

In addition, the state's severe budget crisis--which has forced several districts to make deep cuts in payrolls and in school services--appears to have contributed to the trend. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

State voters last year defeated a ballot initiative that would have raised taxes for education, while they approved limitations on taxation and spending. As a result, school boards have become more attuned to public concerns about how school money is spent, noted Jennifer Grossman, a spokeswoman for the Colorado School Boards Association.

"The writing appears to be on the wall: People want more accountability,'' added Superintendent Paul Rosier of the 18,000-student Mesa County Valley School District in Grand Junction.

Mr. Rosier's district was one of the first in the state to consider establishing a base salary for teachers and then offering additional pay for certain skills.

A few districts have also used the move toward alternative pay to make their salary structures dovetail with changes in teacher certification that will take effect next year. Those changes call for creation of three levels of licensure for teachers: interim, professional, and master.

Unions Skeptical

Although local teachers' unions have been supportive in some cases of revising districts' traditional salary models, some union officials appear skeptical about the merits of the proposed plans.

"We think the basis [for pay] ought to be education and experience,'' Jeanne Beyer, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, said.

"But we're open to looking at other measurable criteria,'' she added.

Only the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate located in a suburban district south of Denver, has ratified a contract that will replace longevity increases with performance pay. (See Education Week, May 26, 1993.)

The teachers' union in another Denver suburb, Littleton County, has worked closely with the local school board on a performance-pay scheme, but a final agreement has not been reached.

Ms. Beyer said she is concerned about how teachers would be evaluated under the new systems. Moreover, she argued, performance pay would cost districts more than the automatic annual raises most teachers now receive.

Most districts "are in a serious financial situation,'' Ms. Beyer noted.

"The likelihood of coming up with a plan that would infuse enough money to make the pay system worth it is very slim,'' she added.

Other observers have also been cautious in endorsing sweeping changes in how teachers are paid.

"I think all of us would agree that if you could do it, you would want to pay according to merit and performance,'' said Sen. Al Meiklejohn, the chairman of the Senate education committee.

"The problem is putting [alternative pay] into effect in a credible and fair way,'' Mr. Meiklejohn added.

Field-Testing a Model

Over the past several years, state lawmakers have moved to give local boards greater flexibility to explore alternatives to paying teachers according to seniority and graduate education.

The Douglas County schools are expected to implement the first phase of their new system next year, while the Mesa County Valley district is continuing "to see if we can put together a model, making sure we can assess what we think we can before we negotiate,'' Superintendent Rosier said.

Next fall, Mesa County Valley is scheduled to field-test parts of the pay plan and its new assessments.

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