Alaska Governor Seeks Incentives for School Employees

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Alaska officials are seeking their own version of the pay-for-performance models being tested or proposed in some of the Lower 48 states. The plan offers bonuses not only to teachers, but also to principals, secretaries, cooks, janitors, and other school employees.

Gov. Frank H. Murkowski and Education Commissioner Roger Sampson are backing the “school performance incentive program,” which ties the extra pay to students’ academic improvement.

Both men have sought to distinguish the program from traditional merit-pay initiatives, which they believe pit employees against one another. The Alaska incentive program, unveiled Jan. 11, would foster cooperation, they predict, by providing money to a wide range of school workers, with payouts varying by job description.

The goal is to expand the number of people in schools who take an interest in improved student performance, Mr. Sampson said in a recent interview. In Alaska, teachers’ aides and other noninstructional staff members often have worked in schools the longest, particularly in rural, remote areas, and traditionally have the deepest ties to parents and the surrounding community.

“I never wanted to make it where there were winners and losers,” Mr. Sampson said of the pay plan. “We needed to establish shared responsibility.”

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Gov. Murkowski, a Republican, has voiced strong support for the initiative. Legislation in Alaska’s GOP-controlled House and Senate would establish the estimated $15 million-a-year effort.

The incentive plan seeks to reward schools for any substantial improvement in student test scores, not simply for reaching a specific target, such as “proficient.” Incentives would be based on a formula that evaluates individual student scores on Alaska’s standards-based assessments. Those scores are placed in one of six categories, from “advanced” at the highest end to “far below proficient, minus,” at the lowest.

Scoring Guide

Each student’s performance is compared with the previous year’s, with schools earning points or reductions based on whether students move to higher or lower categories. Those points are totaled for each school, and divided by the number of students, who are judged in grades 3-10. The higher the final score, the richer the bonuses for that school’s employees.

Bonuses would range from $2,500 to $5,500 for licensed staff members, including administrators and teachers, to $1,000 to $2,500 for other employees. Some workers in central-district offices might also be eligible for bonuses, depending on the role they play in school improvement.

Mr. Sampson said he looked at private-sector models in crafting the proposal, which has been in the works for about a year. He also studied the strengths and shortcomings of performance-pay proposals in other states and school districts.

The commissioner also reflected on his own experiences as superintendent of the Chugach system, a high-achieving rural Alaska district that he led from 1994 to 2000. Chugach officials awarded bonuses to teachers based partly on participation in professional-development activities, he said.

Gov. Murkowski has proposed increasing overall per-pupil K-12 spending by $90 million in fiscal 2007, up from $824 million this year.

Bill Bjork, the president of the Alaska Education Association, questioned whether lawmakers would be tempted to siphon that larger pool of money to pay for the incentives—a move a spokesman for the governor said he would oppose.

Mr. Bjork’s union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, is a plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging that Alaska’s school funding system is inequitable.

Vol. 25, Issue 20, Page 21

Published in Print: January 25, 2006, as Alaska Governor Seeks Incentives for School Employees
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