Teachers in the Payson Unified School District must increase the goals they set to earn performance pay or the school board will send them back, members warned Monday.
Last year, board members reluctantly approved the teacher-set goals because a looming state deadline didn’t allow time for revisions. However, members admonished administrators that they wanted to see the district set higher goals this year.
On Monday, members provided no definitive benchmarks, but most agreed, as an example, that last year’s standards for the middle school, where teachers could earn 80 percent of the money for half of the students meeting a goal, was too low.
Although the middle school met last year’s goal, the school had missed its bar for two years before.
Every year, each school in the district chooses goals it must meet to earn a pot of money for performance pay. Goals include the percentage of students meeting Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards requirements, professional development and scores on an annual parent satisfaction survey.
The amount of money changes every year based on how flush the state is. Either all teachers at the school earn the money, or none do.
If a school doesn’t meet its goals — like Rim Country Middle School — the money doesn’t disappear. Instead, when the school finally reaches its goal, teachers receive money from the failed years in addition to money for the successful year.
And so in July, when teachers throughout the district received checks for about $1,600, teachers at the middle school earned about $2,400 — the bigger check reflecting payout from previous years when teachers didn’t meet the goal.
This year, the amount at stake has fallen to about $780, which led Superintendent Casey O’Brien to ask board members how difficult they wanted to make the goals considering the amount of money.
“If this was $10,000, I’d be very concerned,” about the goals’ rigor, said O’Brien. “I still think we should stretch,” he added, but maybe not pull a muscle.
Board member Matt Van Camp said, “I don’t want us to get stuck on the amount of money they’re earning here. I’m concerned about student achievement.”
At the middle school last year, for instance, 70 percent of students had to meet AIMS reading standards in order for teachers to earn all of the money.
However, teachers can set graduated goals to earn part of the money. At the middle school, if 50 to 59 percent of students met the reading requirements, teachers received 80 percent of the money.
Some board members cited that requirement as an example of the goals’ excessive ease.
Van Camp called the goal “unacceptable.”
Board member Viki Holmes, however, defended the plans overall, saying that they have increased in difficulty from what was once, “totally inadequate.”
“I think it has changed substantially because the board has said, ‘You have to try a little harder than that,’” Holmes said.
Board member Richard Meyer also disliked how all teachers receive the same amount of money because some work harder than others. For instance, he’s heard of history teachers not grading sentence structure on papers because they don’t teach English.
Meyer replied, “There are a lot of freeloaders out there.”
O’Brien said, “Well, you haven’t visited with our new social studies teachers.”
Member Barbara Underwood urged Meyer to think about the opposing angle. How would he like to be an art teacher relying for his bonus on an English teacher to make kids understand the meaning of a prepositional phrase?
“You’re working as a team,” Underwood said. Maybe math or English teachers carry a heavier burden, but the teachers work as a team nonetheless.
An exasperated Holmes replied, “You have to stop living in the past, Richard,” referencing the time years ago when Meyer taught in the district. The district has improved, said Holmes. “We’re really striving to make changes.”