September 4, 2008 in City

Merit-pay plan for Idaho schools could face fight

By JESSIE L. BONNER Associated Press

What’s included

Among items covered in the new budget: teacher salaries and efforts to boost student test scores in reading, classroom supplies, and a program to let high school juniors and seniors earn college credits.

BOISE – Public schools chief Tom Luna could be in for a fight after he earmarked a portion of his yearly budget proposal for a plan that will reward teachers based on their performance.

Luna submitted a proposed $1.5 billion budget to the governor’s office late Tuesday to operate and improve public schools in 2009 and 2010. The budget is to go before Idaho lawmakers in January and includes $27 million for teacher raises and a pay-for-performance plan.

The proposed merit-based pay system is similar to a measure Idaho lawmakers voted to kill in February.

“I don’t pretend to think that there’s not going to be opposition,” Luna said.

The public schools budget Luna proposed this week is about $77 million more than the $1.46 billion he requested in January 2008 to fund the current school year.

Most of the $27 million for teacher raises is designated for an $18 million pay-for-performance plan. Since at least the early 1980s, Republican lawmakers have sought to break up the existing compensation system, based on classroom experience, arguing that it rewards good teachers the same as the bad.

Earlier this year, however, the Legislature voted to dump a $21 million version of Luna’s pay-for-performance plan, in part because bonuses would have been based largely on how students perform on statewide tests. Instead, lawmakers approved $23.8 million in teacher raises and a plan to boost the minimum teacher salary by 3 percent.

The vote was hailed as a victory for the Idaho Education Association, the teachers union that had fought the measure. Union President Sherri Wood said her group offered to be at the table while Luna and other educational stakeholders hashed out the details of a new bill this year. “That actually has not happened,” Wood said.

The proposed budget outlines Luna’s priorities, but details, including the pay-for-performance plan, are still being worked out.

“It’s not written in stone,” Luna said, “but it’s not written in jelly.”

Department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said Luna consulted the union last year when developing his previous pay-for-performance plan. Wood was part of a task force Luna formed this summer to help develop statewide standards for teacher performance. The lack of such standards was a reason why the Senate killed the previous pay-for-performance plan, according to the state Department of Education.

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