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Changes to CMS teacher pay remain unclear

CMS will create a plan this month, but key questions remain unanswered

By the end of this month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools plans to unveil a proposal for changing the way teachers are paid, with rewards for leadership and classroom results.

“We need to keep young people in the profession. They’re not going to stick around 30 years, like me, to get to the top of the salary schedule,” Harding High chemistry teacher Erlene Lyde told a focus group on Thursday.

But a month from the March 1 state deadline for districts to submit teacher-pay plans, the biggest questions remain unanswered: How would CMS gauge teacher success and where would the money come from?

There’s even some confusion about what happens after districts submit their proposals. Leaders of the CMS group studying changes in compensation said state approval is required.

But Alexis Schauss, director of school business for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said last week that legislation approved last year actually authorizes districts that meet the deadline to move ahead with their plans. Those plans must be submitted to state offices and legislative committees, but no further action is required, she said.

Last year’s budget bill authorizes districts to “adjust base pay,” for teachers based on student results, additional responsibilities and/or the need to fill classrooms in hard-to-staff schools or subjects, Schauss said. But she said it’s unclear whether that means districts can revise the state pay scale, which is based on credentials and experience, or merely adjust the way they distribute county money.

CMS, like most N.C. districts, uses county money to bump up all teacher salaries. For instance, a CMS teacher with 10 years’ experience and a bachelor’s degree makes $37,110 a year in state pay and gets a $5,570 county supplement.

Teachers and CMS staff serving on the latest advisory panel say they’ve been told to take a “build it and they will come,” approach – craft a proposal that makes sense, then let politicians and policymakers figure out the money.

Old plan is broken

Across the country, there’s a push for teacher performance pay, based on student test scores and other measures. But while the idea may be popular, execution has proven difficult.

Challenges include how to decide who gets extra money, whether to award it as a bonus or base salary and where to find enough money to keep such a program going. CMS has launched various performance-pay pilot efforts, only to have them end when grants ran out.

In 2010, during the depth of the recession, former Superintendent Peter Gorman pushed for a system-wide plan but met resistance on several fronts. Many teachers worried that he planned to reward some teachers at the expense of others.

The recession also gummed up the existing N.C. pay plan. Teachers are supposed to get raises for each year of experience. But as money ran short, the state froze pay for three years. That means a fourth-year teacher now makes the same as one who is just starting.

“The teacher salary schedule is kind of broken,” said Schauss. Bumping all teachers up to where they would have been without the freeze would be “prohibitively expensive,” she said.

As of Thursday, Schauss said, no district had submitted a proposal to revise its pay plan. CMS hopes to have a proposal ready for public release at the Feb. 26 school board meeting; other districts may be working on theirs as well.

Union County Schools already use county money to provide a $1,500 stipend for teachers in high-priority schools, but the district does not plan to submit a new compensation plan to the state, said spokesman Rob Jackson.

“We are listening closely to what other districts, including CMS, are doing,” Jackson said.

Details are tough

CMS has had volunteer teachers advising district leaders on performance pay for the past three years. The latest panel convened last fall to work on the current proposal.

At two recent public forums, members of that group sketched out options that would create career options, with corresponding pay raises, for classroom teachers who demonstrate effectiveness and take on such duties as serving as department heads or mentoring new teachers.

Teachers who attended last week’s session, at River Gate Elementary, voiced enthusiasm for the concept but had lots of questions about the details: Who decides which teachers get pay bumps? Will the new plan foster teamwork or pit teachers against each other? Can teachers opt out of the new plan?

Emily Douglas, a consultant leading the effort, said CMS hopes to create a plan where no one loses pay and participation is voluntary. But nothing is settled yet, said Douglas, who works for Battelle for Kids, a nonprofit educational consulting firm hired by CMS.

When the teacher advisory panel broke into small groups to draft suggestions, one group found the details so challenging that “we crumpled up our sheet and threw it in the trash,” Bain Elementary teacher Danielle Gladden said.

In March, after submitting a teacher compensation plan to the state, CMS plans to expand the compensation task force and start work on performance-based pay for all employees, officials have said.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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