Visitors arrive by plane and ferry to the remote, 130-student Hoonah City School District, located on an island off the Alaskan coast.
So, it turns out, do cash bonuses.
This past summer, district Superintendent Gene S. Avey learned that several elementary school employees would receive bonuses through the Alaska School Performance Program, a merit-pay system that rewards teachers, administrators, and even noninstructional personnel for improved test scores.
This year’s inaugural round of $1.8 million in bonuses went to 770 school employees across the state. A majority, 470, were “certificated” employees, such as teachers or principals, whose awards range from $2,500 to $5,500. But 303 “noncertificated” employees, from teachers’ aides to food-service workers to custodians, will collect $1,000 to $2,500 each.
The idea was that all school workers contribute to a sound academic environment. The state’s 500 public schools, which enroll 131,000 students, are rewarded with bonuses for improving scores, or maintaining high marks, on state exams in reading, writing, and mathematics.
But state officials have heard complaints, such as from the Alaska affiliate of the National Education Association, that the award formula favors small schools. Twenty-three of 42 winners this year are in rural or remote areas, the state says.
Complaints over Alaska school funding, by contrast, have often centered on rural schools. Alaska budgeted about $950 million for K-12 education in fiscal 2008, out of an overall state budget of $9.8 billion.
Alaska education department spokesman Eric Fry said the state is open to modifying the program, but argued that the formula was created with flexibility to reward a range of schools.
In Hoonah, eight employees with certification and 15 others received bonuses, the state says. Superintendent Avey acknowledged that he and some of his staff had doubts about the fairness of the bonus program. But he is proud of their recognition.
“I know they’ve worked hard,” Mr. Avey said. “It was a good thing.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2007 edition of Education Week