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In-Service Training Is Out Of Control, State Says Lawmakers Examine Teacher Pay Raises For Taking Classes, Even Ones That Have No Relevance To Teaching

Want to get paid for going to conferences? For taking classes in bicycling, aerobic rope skipping, ideal body weight and positive image building? Some teachers are, under a state policy in which they are paid extra for so-called “in-service education.”

Under the program, K-12 teachers earn more money for credits they receive taking classes.

The state sets no standards as to the content, rigor, or relevancy of the courses to teaching.

The lack of rules allows almost any course or training program to be reported for salary increases, a new legislative study reports. In addition, no correlation between in-service study and better teaching could be documented in a state study of the program.

About 40 percent of classes taken for extra pay during the 1993-94 school year were education-related. Other classes ran the gamut from union conferences to wildflower appreciation and ceramics classes.

In-service education is a big-ticket item: The estimated annual cost to taxpayers is at least $18 million, according to a study by the state Legislative Budget Committee.

Teachers also get paid for extracurricular activities, such as coaching. Statewide, 96 percent of all school districts increased teacher pay up to nearly $3,000 a year on average under so-called supplemental contracts during the 1991-92 school year.

The extra pay comes from a combination of local property tax levies and state money.

Some of the supplemental contracts may not have been legal, because they amounted to paying teachers more for simply doing their jobs, according to a second study by the Legislative Budget Committee.

And more than 40 percent of teachers paid the extra income didn’t even specify what they did to earn more than $739,547 in extra pay in all, forked over for “unspecified time, responsibility, or incentives,” the study says.

“We don’t have the slightest idea what they did for the money,” said Rep. Jean Silver, R-Spokane, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, and a member of the Legislative Budget Committee. “Basically this money just amounted to a pay raise.”

Silver also took issue with the inservice study program. “We thought they’d be looking at better ways of teaching math, or brushing up on their history. I’m all for that. I don’t want dull teachers in the classroom.

“But obviously this was taken advantage of terribly. It’s absolutely ridiculous and certainly not what the Legislature intended.”

Mike Roberts, a budget analyst for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said if lawmakers or school districts want to set standards for either program, that has always been their option.

He defended the way both programs are run.

The broad range of classes teachers take for extra pay helps them do a better job - even if the class is about wildflowers, Roberts said.

“Teaching is still very much an art. Teachers are challenged in a lot of ways to get inside kids’ heads. It may be they need to look at wildflowers to teach geometry or hydrology.”

Teachers need any crowbar they can grab to open kids’ minds, he said.

Roberts also defended paying teachers extra for the supplemental contracts in which no work is specified.

“If you have very good teachers, and that’s all that they do - they don’t coach, they don’t work with the debate team - this is a way to attract them, and keep them, and reward them,” he said.

The state distributes more than $1.5 billion each year to districts for teacher salaries. Teachers are paid according to their experience and amount of education.

Many school districts not only allow teachers to submit credits for courses taken for higher pay. They also provide time off to attend class and pay a stipend and travel expenses for taking the course.

During the 1993-94 school year, teachers earned extra money to take classes in aerobic rope skipping; bicycling; creating healthy, satisfying relationships; final touches on ceramics; group effectiveness and positive image; ideal body weight; mountain wildflowers; positive image building and a Mount St. Helens field trip.

Nearly 500 teachers were paid extra for attending a teachers’ union conference. They also earned more for going to a conference on how to apply teachings from the book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; and a “theological update” for teachers from the Archdiocese of Seattle.

More than $111.7 million was spent on supplemental contracts in the 1991-92 school year, boosting teachers’ pay an average of $2,762 per teacher.

Some teachers in the Shoreline School District received $5,403 in supplemental contract pay.

They were paid for coaching, leading field trips, and additional time spent on curriculum development and class preparation.

But the largest single category of activities that garnered extra pay was “Unspecified training, responsibility, or incentives,” according to the supplemental study by the Legislative Budget Committee.

Teachers in those cases were paid extra without any requirement in the supplemental contract designating what they would do, or when they would do it.

“How about that?” said Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, ranking minority member on the House Appropriations Committee. “This is something the Legislature clearly should take a look at and act on.

“Supplemental contracts were supposed to be a way to provide more money for teacher salaries at the local level, but it just got looser and looser and there isn’t much in the way of control. Now it’s just sort of extra money.”

Some contracts may not even be in compliance with the law, which specifies that the extra money can’t be paid for basic duties.

Roberts defended the supplemental contracts as a way local districts can help boost teacher pay.

“Teachers have a hard time,” Roberts said. “More and more, schools are not a friendly, supportive place to work. Some are considering wearing bullet-proof vests in the classroom.

“They do a lot of surrogate parenting, and that adds to the burden. We expect them to be professionals but from a pay standpoint, they certainly are not at the top end of the scale.”

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