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CMS teacher pay: Big ideas, no money

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Teachers could earn up to 20 percent more by taking on the toughest assignments, and thousands more for demonstrating advanced skills and leadership under a long-delayed pay proposal released by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this week.

Teachers, administrators and consultants spent months working out the plan. But because there’s no money to make it happen, the vision remains hypothetical.

And educators apparently remain wary. The study cites a poll of 2,959 CMS teachers and principals asking if they’d be willing to give up the current pay scale, which is based on experience and credentials, for performance pay. About 38 percent said no and 16 percent said yes, with the rest saying they’d consider it if they had more information.

Like districts across the country, CMS is seeking a better way to reward effective teachers. The 2013-14 state budget establishes a task force to look at the same challenge.

But local, state and national efforts tend to run aground on three issues: Measuring teacher quality, coming up with a fair and effective pay plan, then mustering millions of dollars to carry it out.

Last fall, CMS leaders convened a group of teachers to create a plan under a formula laid out by House Bill 950, approved the previous year. While the bill urged local districts to create performance-pay plans, it did not ensure they’d get money to execute their plans.

The CMS proposal, created under the direction of the nonprofit educational consulting group Battelle for Kids, lays out two strategies. One provides additional pay to recruit teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and the other lays out a career path that lets effective teachers earn extra money for sharing their expertise in their schools or broader forums.

“The system was designed to allow for upward mobility, increased compensation and professional growth,” the report says.

Tough to recruit

The CMS group suggested 8 percent raises for teachers working in hard-to-staff schools, defined as schools with large numbers of low-income and/or low-performing students, a high teacher turnover rate and a large proportion of inexperienced teachers.

It suggested 12 percent extra for teachers in hard-to-fill subjects. Traditionally, CMS and other districts struggle to find qualified teachers for advanced math and science, special education, foreign languages and some career-tech fields.

A teacher qualifying for the school and subject raises would earn 20 percent extra.

While the state evaluation requires that teachers be rated partly on student growth on state exams, the CMS group urged the district not to tie this pay to growth ratings. Teachers have frequently complained about any pay plan based on test scores. That’s because improved scores can be harder to achieve in schools with large numbers of struggling students.

“Teachers in hard-to-staff schools or subjects should not be punished for not making growth, but should be given the ability to transfer to another school that might be a better fit,” the report says. It adds that schools should not “lump low-performing students in the same class.”

The proposal says teachers would forfeit the extra pay if they are absent more than 5 percent of the year.

Expanding skills

The second part of the plan outlines a “career pathway” pay scale that would replace the current one. It calls for a three-year pilot in which current teachers could choose which scale to use and new hires would use the career pathway.

The plan suggests small raises in teachers’ second and third years. After they have three years of experience, they could qualify for additional duties and pay if they have proficient job ratings.

Teachers would get credit for such leadership tasks as being a department or grade-level chair or serving on advisory panels. They could choose from a number of paths, such as classroom instruction, curriculum, data analysis, technology, special education and student social/emotional/cultural needs.

Within any path, teachers could advance from specialist, which means they influence their classroom or department, to expert, for someone considered a leader in the district or profession. A suggested pay scale ranges from $1,000 added to base pay for someone who has just become a specialist to $25,000 for someone at the highest expert level.

The plan notes that teachers won’t keep the extra pay if they fail to meet the requirements or keep satisfactory evaluations.

Delays and study

The CMS study group and Battelle consultants finished a draft of the report in February, with plans to submit it by the state’s March 1 deadline. But just days before that deadline, Superintendent Heath Morrison told the school board there wasn’t enough time to craft a final version.

At an event earlier this month to unveil the reports of 22 CMS task forces, CMS leaders said the pay report would be posted along with other task-force reports. Instead, the 118-page task force report includes detailed write-ups from the other 21 panels but only a one-page timeline from the compensation group.

After the Observer noted the omission, Kelly Gwaltney, the administrator who oversaw the study, said that was a mistake. CMS recently posted the 56-page compensation report separately.

Meanwhile, Morrison, who just finished his first year as superintendent, has launched another compensation task force, this one charged with reviewing pay for all CMS employees. It’s the fourth employee group in four years to take on some version of the performance-pay challenge, including two created by Morrison’s predecessors.

Helms: 704-358-5033 Twitter: @anndosshelms
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