Beaufort County teachers could earn bonus pay next school year

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 15, 2014 

Starting next school year, every teacher in the Beaufort County School District will be eligible for a performance bonus.

After four years and several million dollars spent on its current pay-for-performance program -- which benefited teachers in only 14 of the county's 34 schools -- the district has crafted a new model available in all schools.

"It is going to reward teachers for performing over and above the expected target, which is to grow students one year and get them ready for the next grade," said the district's head of human resources, Alice Walton.

Teachers can be rewarded individually, and a school's entire staff also could receive bonuses if it exceeds goals for student advancement. Although teachers have the greatest impact on student performance, every staff member contributes to the environment and success of students, Walton said.

Although the number of employees who could benefit from the bonuses more than doubles, the program is expected to cost less than its predecessor, according to superintendent Jeff Moss. It also is designed to be more equitable and consistent, he said.

"There are a couple of reasons why we wanted a new model," Moss said. "The (old) model is just not sustainable, No. 1, and this new process takes out most of the subjectivity, too, in my opinion."

PROGRAM COSTS

The new model will cost up to $1.8 million a year, Walton said.

The program that is being discontinued would have cost the district about $3 million to maintain. It was started in the 2010-11 school year as part of a nationwide, pay-for-performance test program. Nine district elementary schools, four middle schools and one high school participated.

Initially, state and federal grants helped cover program expenses. But every year, the district became responsible for a greater portion of the costs. In two years, it would have been paying the full $3 million, Moss said. And if the district had expanded the program to all schools, it would have cost more than $7 million, he added.

Under the new system, all teachers who advance the majority of their students more than one year of schooling -- as determined by test scores -- will receive 2.5 percent of their base salary, up to $1,000.

However, the individual teacher rewards likely will not go into effect until the 2015-16 school year, Moss said. The delay allows the district to determine how to measure growth in subjects like the arts and other electives.

Bonuses for an entire school's staff will begin next school year.

If the majority of a school's students exceed growth, principals will receive $5,000; assistant principals receive $3,125; teachers receive $2,500; and other support staff, including office employees, cafeteria workers and custodians, receive $850.

Under the old system, bonus expenses were more difficult to predict because they could range from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the teacher's performance, Moss said.

MEASURING PERFORMANCE

The new model also is more objective, according to board chairman Bill Evans.

Bonuses under the old program were determined by student performance data, teacher evaluations and other elements. However, the teacher evaluations -- completed by the principal and other supervisors -- made the program too subjective, Evans said.

For example, some teachers were rewarded largely because of strong evaluations, although their students performed poorly. Moss said the subjectivity of the evaluations sometimes skewed the reward system.

The new model should eliminate that possibility, Walton said.

A teacher's performance will be measured by the growth of each student in his or her class. All students will be tested to determine their capabilities as they enter the class, and the data will then predict progress they should make at the end of the year, according to Walton.

Teachers in the past have expressed concern that tests do not accurately represent a student's grasp of the material. Walton said that was taken into consideration, but that the measurements will take in to account factors such as whether a student is gifted and talented or has learning disabilities.

The district will begin training teachers and administrators on the new system before the school year begins.

Evans said he is excited to finally be able to reward the district's exceptional teachers and schools.

"We have never been able to have a model like this," he said. "Now, we have a way we can take those subjective things out and look at, did that teacher really grow that student."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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