N.C. Effort To Differentiate Pay for Teachers Weakens

By Ann Bradley — September 18, 1991 4 min read

In the wake of a budget-slashing legislative session that left most of North Carolina’s school-reform projects either unfunded or on the drawing beards, the state’s experiment with differentiated-pay plans for teachers also has been significantly weakened.

Teachers throughout the state are voting this month on whether to spend the $29.5 million allocated for the locally designed pay plans on across-the-board salary bonuses instead.

The legislature this year agreed to offer the option of scrapping the merit-pay programs as a concession to Tar Heel teachers, who did not receive pay raises.

Although the outcome of the voting will not be known for several weeks, teachers in the majority of the state’s school districts are widely expected to choose the bonuses, which can be up to $550 each.

“Faced with no raises for the school year, it appears that the popular thing is to opt for the 2 percent across the board,” said Barbara Tapscott, chairman of the state beard of education.

Some education-reform advocates have criticized the General Assembly’s decision to revise the differentiated-pay legislation as a major blow to what was touted as one of the state’s most promising school-improvement initiatives.

Under a 1989 law known as Senate Bill 2, districts were given greater flexibility in using their personnel and resources in exchange for { drawing up measurable goals for student performance and working ! toward them. (See Education Week, Dec. 6, 1989.)

While the law did not require districts to develop differentiated-pay plans to accompany their school-improvement goals, all of the state’s 134 local systems chose to do so.

Merit Pay’s Dim Prospects

The legislature’s action giving teachers the option to drop the pay plans “weakens Senate Bill 2,” Ms. Tapscott said. “The board is solidly behind the idea of performance based pay. It was one of the strongest reform movements being made in the state.”

Still, “We’re going to have accountability and risk-taking whether there’s money or not,” contended Superintendent of Public Instruction Bob Etheridge.

Mr. Etheridge noted that the accountability provisions of the legislation are still in place, including an annual state “report card” of school performance.

The chances for resurrecting merit-pay plans in the future look doubtful, warned John Dom an, executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, which was instrumental in crafting Senate Bill 2.

“The question is, will this get back on track next year, or has it effectively ended yet another experiment with differentiated pay?” Mr. Dornan said.

Economic forecasts for North Carolina, where lawmakers this year closed a $1.2-billion budget gap with a package of tax increases and spending cuts, indicate that state revenues will fall short again in January, Mr. Dornan said.

If there is no money to increase overall teachers’ salaries in the next legislative session, he added, the likelihood of reviving the differentiated-pay schemes will be slim.

The North Carolina Association of Educators lobbied for both salary money and special state funding for the differentiated-pay plans, according to Jackie Vaughn, a spokesman for the association. But when it became clear that there was no salary money, she added, the organization pushed to allow teachers to decide what to do with the Senate Bill 2 funds.

Ms. Vaughn said the N.C.A.E. had no predictions of how its members would vote. But she noted that, if teachers elect to receive the bonus money, they still would be expected to work toward the goals set for their schools without the financial incentives created by the performance-based pay plans.

Setbacks for B.E.P.

Meanwhile, the centerpiece of North Carolina’s school-reform efforts--the six-year-old Basic Education Program--also suffered during the recent legislative session. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .)

The B.E.P. was unfunded for the current school year, although legislators did agree to allocate nearly $29 million in the second year of the biennium to hire more teachers to carry out the programs specified in the B.E.P.

Lawmakers also pledged to make the B.E.P. the “focus of state educational funding’ when there is money to spend in the future. Mr. Etheridge called that promise “a clear indication of the legislature’s commitment” to the program.

Legislators directed the state beard of education to re-examine the program, however, and to simplify the core curriculum that is to be offered to all North Carolina students.

Although most innovation fell by the wayside, the legislature set aside $100,000 this year and $3 million next year to free four sites from regulation, thus enabling them to develop “outcome based” education programs in which students’ mastery of subjects determines their progress through schools.

The new program grew out of a recommendation made by a task force appointed by Mr. Etheridge that examined North Carolina students’ poor performance on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 1991 edition of Education Week as N.C. Effort To Differentiate Pay for Teachers Weakens