Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Ky. to try new ways of paying teachers

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Teacher pay in Kentucky's public schools is based on educational attainment and the number of years served. But critics say it's a system that's outlived its usefulness and fails to reward the best or hardest-working teachers.

        Kentucky plans to experiment with a system that aims to boost teacher quality and reduce critical shortages. Under a pilot program available to at least five school districts by 2003, some Kentucky teachers could receive raises or bonuses based on performance evaluations, added duties or training, or for working in a high-needs school or hard-to-fill fields, such as special education.

        “The goal is to get more qualified teachers in classrooms and promote teacher excellence,” said state Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, who led an effort in the General Assembly earlier this year to create the pilot program, which he would like eventually to take statewide.

        Although a growing number of school districts nationwide have begun to experiment with alternative teacher pay, Kentucky may be among the first to undertake a statewide pilot effort aimed at reducing critical teacher shortages in certain subjects, said Kathy Christie, a vice president of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

        Alternative pay doesn't sit well with teachers' unions, which view it as unfair, divisive and unproven.

        “Having a science teacher earn more than an English teacher, who may be putting in longer days grading writing assignments . . . you can imagine how that makes people feel,” said Brent McKim, a physics teacher and president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

        The Kentucky Education Association, which represents teachers statewide, wants to stick to the current pay system. And teachers such as Alan Miller, a middle school language-arts teacher in Bloomfield, say what's really needed is better pay for all.

        “If they paid teachers more, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” he said.

        Kentucky districts will be invited to apply to become one of the five pilot efforts this year, after the state Board of Education approves regulations being drawn up by the Department of Education. The department would evaluate applicants based on criteria set by the board.

        Each district will have leeway to propose its own version of alternative pay.

        Bob Sexton, director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a Kentucky education advocacy group, said he expects most proposals to steer clear of the controversial idea of linking pay to teacher evaluations, which raises questions about how teachers should be judged.

        Instead, he predicted most would seek to augment the current pay scale with extra pay for training, added duties such as mentoring and curriculum development, and to lure teachers to high-demand fields or high-poverty schools.

        Lawmakers allocated no funding, but Moberly said the state expects to provide grants for the two-year pilots with roughly $1 million in new federal money earmarked for teacher quality initiatives under the new “No Child Left Behind” federal education initiative. Private funding also may be sought, he said.

        Teacher pay in Kentucky averaged $36,255 in 1999-2000, according to an American Federation of Teachers survey. Adjusted for the cost of living, the union found that Kentucky teachers averaged $41,000 annually, just short of the national average of $41,820. Starting salaries are around $23,000 in unadjusted numbers, far less than what candidates trained in high-demand fields like math and science can make elsewhere, officials said.

        “If you could pay more in some fields, you might draw people who want to teach away from a job with a DuPont Chemical,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, spokeswoman for the state's Education Professional Standards Board.


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