Is Teacher Merit Pay Really A Joke?


Ah, to live in Lake Wobegon — where all the children are above average.

Gee, come to think of it — maybe that’s kind of like teaching in a Payson public school.

We were struck by the unusually candid and outspoken reaction of the Payson School Board to the most recent goals set for determining which teachers should get raises for good performance.

Turns out, the plans the principals and the teachers have come up with ensures that just about everyone gets a raise for high performance.

The normally quiet board members straightened up in their seats and knitted their brows when confronted with the figures. Board member Matt Van Camp observed that even teachers had told him the system is “a joke.”

We do understand why the district and teachers have conspired to render mostly meaningless a voter approved effort to link teacher raises with student performance.

Teachers don’t make enough money. We get that.

One education list put Arizona at about 31st among states for teacher salaries — with average pay a little better than half as much as leading states like California.

Clearly, teachers deserve more money, considering the fate of the country rests in their overworked hands.

We get that. But then, that’s not really the point at hand.

The voters passed Proposition 301 some years ago to boost teacher pay — and to link at least a portion of that increase to performance. And that makes sense.

One of the big problems in education remains the group think that fails to reward and therefore hang onto outstanding teachers. The great majority of teachers are dedicated, devoted and undervalued. Some of them are extraordinary and some of them are incompetent. But the system makes it desperately difficult to either reward the great teachers or get rid of the bad ones.

For proof, you perhaps need look no further than the fate of “pay for performance,” which turned into an exercise in making sure everyone got his or her proportionate dollop of money.

Granted, you can’t base teacher pay on a simple-minded readout of student test scores. Further granted, coming up with a fair system to measure teacher performance presents challenges. Still, a system in which everyone gets the same “merit-based” pay raise makes no sense.

So we were happy to see that board members want to vamp up this year’s system.

And in the meantime, let us all admit it: Lake Wobegon doesn’t exist, not all children are above average and some teachers deserve a raise more than others.

Main Street: Take action

Looks like Payson’s Main Street will undergo yet another round of soul searching.

Officially known as the Green Valley Redevelopment District, the hoped-for retail and tourist core stretching from the Payson Event Center to Green Valley Park has been the focal point of much review, planning and perplexing questions.

The one-time center of Payson had a sawmill, the town’s first library, restaurants, bars, and retail stores before it fell on hard times as highway shopping malls sucked the sales out of the street. It has made a modest comeback recently, with new businesses, a big drop in crime, development of Green Valley Park and a host of community activities — like First Fridays. Main Street now boasts a lot of positives — but still, something’s missing.

Will another survey and a new plan provide what we lack? Only if community leaders manage to think outside the box.

For starters, we hope future plans start with Green Valley Park and its lakes as a focal point.

What about establishing and pushing for development of an art center or a group of art studios as a draw? Perhaps the now exciting prospect of a college campus coming to Payson will create new opportunities for entertainment-oriented businesses.

Main Street has been blessed with some energetic and creative business owners, but perhaps it’s time to bring the businesses and property owners to the table — all in one place at one time — and hash out what the area needs. And perhaps that discussion should start with Vice Mayor Mike Vogel’s question: Do we even need a redevelopment district anymore? If so, what can the town, businesses and property owners do today?

It’s time to focus, make some strategic choices — and take action rather than be content with yet another hopeful survey.


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