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Merit-Based Pay Under Consideration in Waukesha School District

The Waukesha School District is looking into revising its teachers' compensation plan. However, one school board member questions if it's possible to quantify or measure teaching.

The Waukesha School District is looking at developing a teachers' compensation plan that may include merit-based pay.

With a vote of 2-1, the Waukesha School Board’s Human Resources Committee recommended Wednesday night moving forward with a contract for a consulting firm to help the district design a new compensation program for teachers.

The $77,150 contract with the firm, Battelle for Kids, will go to the full school board next week for consideration.

Still in the early stages, the district is beginning to look at developing a system of alternate forms of teacher compensation that may include some type of merit pay or other ways to determine teacher pay.

“Not necessarily merit pay in and of itself but strategic compensation that aligns with our vision of excellence and what we value as a district,” Waukesha’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Christine Hedstrom said.

“We need to do something different than step-and-lane salary schedule because this school district values more than experience and education level," she added. "If we value more than those two things, what else do we value? And aligning our values to what we pay people, how do we go about doing that?”

What the new plan might entail hasn’t yet been determined, Hedstrom said: “Our compensation design team hasn’t gotten that far yet.”

The design team consists of about 20 members, including district administrators and elementary, middle and high school and special education teachers along with union representatives, Hedstrom said.

Hedstrom said that one of the problems with the current district step-and-lane plan, in which teachers receive more pay based on their education level and/or their length of time teaching, is that newer teachers are stifled in their ability to earn more. Helping teachers be more engaged is a goal.

“Engaged employees leads to engaged students, leads to student achievement, and that’s why we’re doing this,” Hedstrom said.

School Board Member Ellen Langill voted against the contract with Battelle.

“We as a board should look into … this a little more thoroughly,” she said.

She questioned if the district wanted to move forward with a merit pay plan and was critical of the idea of merit pay for teachers, questioning whether it was possible to measure teaching.

“I have to say that philosophically, I have a problem with that," Langill said. "We’re not dealing with things that are easily quantifiable or measurable."

Tony Bagshaw, managing director of Battelle for Kids, spoke to the committee via conference call about the work the organization does for districts throughout the nation.

Typically the compensation models Battelle for Kids helps develop focus on academic measures, in addition to value-added data, which Wisconsin doesn’t currently have, he said. Sometimes, the plans are bonus models or incentives and measure specific things such as teamwork.

They don’t see a lot of “pure achievement measures” due to the difficulty of separating out social-economic impacts on student achievement, he said.

Student achievement should be a part of the discussion because student achievement is the objective of every school district, said Human Resources Committee chairman Steve Edlund.

Edlund said that he hoped Waukesha would be a leading district in the state in terms of teacher compensation, changes in which are now more easily made due to Act 10.

School Board Member Karin Rajinchek also voted to recommend the contract with Battelle.

"I just feel strongly that we should do something and we should do it now," she said. "If someone doesn't want this, I would ask why not."

Chuck Weber December 06, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Being a teacher is no different from any other "job" in society.....when the day is done, the measurement of success or failure must consider comparative levels of accomplishment. The methodology of meritocracy is no more or less difficult than every other job in society. Without it, there is stagnation and decline, in the quality and dedication of teachers AND the progress or "success" of the education delivered. Should "seniority" and degree levels achieved be considered? Yes, seniority as a "continuity" benefit and education as a partial reimbursement issue.
Chuck Weber December 06, 2012 at 01:14 PM
A follow-up thought on the "degree level achieved" by a teacher. This is important in an apples to apples hiring scenario; but thereafter is ONLY important as it directly contributes to the teacher's ability to DELIVER a better "product". Just like continuing education and technology updates and training are important in maintaining competency in other areas of society (medicine, auto mechanics come to mind) .If your degree doesn't make you a BETTER teacher, it's nothing but a new coat of paint on an aging structure.
chris kendziora December 06, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Most people today work on a pay for performance measure! We also as parents and taxpayers need a mechanism to evaluate treachers as well there are a number in the district collecting a paycheck!!!! We cannot have the Rooster running the hen house going forward ie peer evaluation!!!!
Jane December 06, 2012 at 03:49 PM
In 1900 Frederick Taylor developed scientific management principles for Bethlehem Steel. Workers earned incentive pay based on their ability to shovel coal using standardized methods, and throughput increased considerably. But students are not lumps of coal waiting passively to be shoveled around. As a parent, I expect the teacher to treat each child as a complex human being, and challenge them to think about what it means to be fully human and a supportive member of society. A simple-minded focus on quantifiable "reading, riting, and rithmetic" skills will inevitably result in a pauperized society, as exemplified in T.S. Eliot's "Wasteland."
Chuck Weber December 06, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Jane, to your point, many would consider the "state of education" today at best mandated mediocrity, and at worst in terminal decline...i.e. that said same "Wasteland". No one fully expects teachers to be graded exclusively as they grade their minions (witness the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT et al) And if, in fact, students aren't steel workers mandated to follow Taylor's standardized gauges of competency, why do we give them grades at all? When these students ultimately graduate into the work place they WILL be graded based almost exclusively on the QUALITY of their work product, not some archaic Samuel Gompers "worker's rights" cattle call.
Jane December 06, 2012 at 08:52 PM
@Chuck – I suspect that we have fundamentally different views of the purposes of education. Is the primary purpose of education career development - to train students in the vocational skills required to be effective employees? Or should education include an attempt to help students grow as individuals, relate with authenticity to others, introspect, and explore the human condition? Gainful employment is indeed a part of a meaningful life. But in the final analysis, a life based solely on an economic model is incredibly sterile and devalues the individual.
Chuck Weber December 07, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Jane, well put. My guess is the ideal lies somewhere between. Thanks for your insights.

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