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Va. District To Give Bonuses to Top-Rated Teachers

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The Fairfax County, Va., school board has voted to restore parts of a controversial performance-pay program over the objections of the local teachers' union and some school-board members.

The board approved a plan by a 6-to-5 vote this month that will give annual bonuses of up to $1,000 to top-rated teachers under the district's existing teacher-evaluation system.

The plan, which is expected to cost the district about $6 million next year, was based in part on the recommendations of a local panel of business, education, and community leaders appointed by Superintendent Robert R. Spillane to study the issue of differentiated pay.

The district last year abandoned its performance-pay system--one of the largest and most widely known merit-pay programs in the nation--because of budgetary constraints and pressure from the Fairfax Education Association and some board members. (See Education Week, March 24, 1993.)

Under the original program, which was adopted in 1987 and fiercely defended by Mr. Spillane, veteran teachers who passed a rigorous one-year evaluation would receive a 9 percent bonus each year for four years.

Less Pay, More People

The new plan calls for much smaller annual bonuses for teachers on the top two tiers of the district's four-step evaluation process.

"Exemplary'' and "skillful'' teachers will receive $1,000 and $500 each, respectively.

The current policy of firing or freezing the pay of those rated "marginal'' or "ineffective'' will continue.

The local panel had proposed larger rewards for only those teachers on the top rung, but board members crafted a compromise.

"This will give a smaller bonus to a wider group,'' said Dolores Bohen, the assistant superintendent for communications, adding that the committee will study the option of giving bonuses to teachers who assume extra academic duties or of rewarding individual schools for meeting achievement goals.

The district has agreed to scrap teachers' bonus pay before trimming cost-of-living increases if it faces another budgetary tightening.

But union leaders criticized the cost of the plan and claimed it will undermine collegiality in the schools. "We tried this seven years ago and it didn't work,'' said Kelly Peaks Horner, the president of the F.E.A., which represents about 6,000 of the county's 10,000 teachers.

"This is an expenditure ... we cannot afford,'' she said.

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