Mandan News

Wilfred Volesky: A new plan to compensate teachers

Every other year we have a number of visitors that come to the Bismarck-Mandan communities and stay in our communities for at least three months. These visitors are the Senators and Representatives that have been elected by the constituents in their district to represent them during the legislative session occurring this year. We recognize that when the legislators are in session we can expect there will be changes made that will impact each of us. As educators, we have benefited from a number of positive changes made in education the last legislative sessions.

In the upcoming legislative session it is very likely that one of the education issues that will receive a lot of attention will be alternative compensation for teachers. It is likely since it appears that a new way to compensate teachers will be a part of the reauthorization of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We hope reauthorization of this act occurs shortly after new members of the U.S. Congress are installed in early January. It appears N.D. legislators will take a proactive approach and try to encourage school districts to create an alternative compensation plan with teachers ahead of the federal legislation.

The present method of compensating teachers is the traditional salary schedule. This schedule compensates teachers on years of experience, the level of education and a cost of living increase. Each year each teacher receives an annual increase based on a year of experience. They may receive an additional increase if they earned additional credit hours, allowing them to move from one lane to another on the schedule. In the Mandan schedule you must earn 16 graduate hours to move from lane one to lane two. They may also receive a cost of living increase. Every teacher in a school district earns their annual increase based on these three criteria. There is no difference in the annual salary increase between a teacher whose students annually excel academically and a teacher whose students show little academic gain. Opponents of the traditional salary schedule claim this form of compensation rewards incompetence and mediocrity. Thus, the search for a new way to compensate teachers is being considered in school districts throughout the nation.

To the casual observer it seems obvious we should be paying teachers on their performance rather than on seniority. This concept is used in business and industry and so should be fairly easy to implement in education. However, pay for performance does not transfer to education that easily. In simple terms in business, if I am an employee that is asked to build 10 gadgets each week and I make 15 gadgets, or if I am given the goal of selling a product to 10 clients and I sell the product to 15 clients, I have surpassed what was expected of me, and so I should be rewarded for my superior performance. It is fairly easy to determine when an employee has surpassed the goals that would allow them to be given an increase in pay due to their performance.

In education one of the criteria for getting additional compensation needs to be student performance, which is our major objective. It may be difficult to determine which teachers should get additional compensation based on student performance since a classroom of students can differ greatly in their academic ability and level of maturity. One teacher may have students with good academic skills and few behavior issues which should make their job of getting these students to excel academically easier then a teacher that receives students with low academic skills or behavior problems. In this case it may be the teacher who had the lower achieving students who did the superior job of teaching and should be rewarded for their performance.

Although creating an alternative compensation plan for teachers may be difficult to develop and implement, there is no reason for not attempting to develop such a plan. The Mandan School Board and the Mandan Education Association have created an Alternative Compensation Committee to begin discussion on creating such a plan. The first meeting of that committee will be on Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the Middle School Cafetorium. At this meeting we will have a presentation by Jon Martinson, director of the North Dakota School Boards Association, Greg Burns, director of the North Dakota Education Association, and Doug Johnson, director of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders.  These three individuals have been researching Alternative Compensation Plans that have been implemented in school districts across the nation. Their presentation will consist of a review of different alternative compensation plans that have had some success. They will also answer any questions that may result from their presentation. We believe this presentation will provide our committee with valuable information as we begin our work to create a new compensation plan for teachers.

This is an open meeting and everyone is invited to attend. If you have an interest in creating a different way of compensating teachers please attend this meeting.