Teacher Pay

Most Memphis teachers are due a 3 percent raise this year, but who and when?

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat
Allison Graybeal teaches her Algebra I class at Middle College High School in Memphis.

Like many educators in Tennessee’s largest school district, Comeshia Williams was a little confused about her first paycheck of the new school year.

A 17-year veteran of Memphis schools, Williams and her colleagues at Northaven Elementary School got their first check in mid-August. But their salaries didn’t reflect the 3 percent raise allotted for top teachers under Shelby County Schools’ 2016-17 budget.

“The whole pay scale for the district has changed over the past few years,” Williams said. “There hasn’t been a lot of conversation. That’s led to a lot of confusion among teachers.”

Details about the new compensation plan emerged last week when Superintendent Dorsey Hopson emailed teachers with an update.

Educators will get the raise if they rank a 3, 4 and 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 on their last evaluations, he wrote. That includes not only teachers but librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers and psychologists. (Last year, 89 percent of district educators scored a 3, 4 or 5 on their evaluations.)

Hopson said the increases will show up in teachers’ paychecks beginning in October after the district receives teacher performance data from the State Department of Education. The raises will be retroactive.

In Tennessee, teacher evaluations are tied to student scores on the state’s standardized tests. But due to the cancellation of TNReady tests for grades 3-8 last spring, Shelby County Schools will rely on guidance from the State Department of Education’s evaluation model for rating teachers of those grades, said district spokeswoman Kristin Tallent.

Evaluations for high school teachers will still include student test scores, since TNReady wasn’t canceled for those grades. But those scores are a source of anxiety for secondary teachers, said Josalyn Tresvant, an instructional facilitator at Kate Bond Elementary School and a former teaching fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

“We’re not confident the data will truly reflect the hard work put into students. There was so much stress surrounding the rollout of the test,” Tresvant said.

Tikeila Rucker, a district teacher and president of the United Educators Association, was surprised to learn that the district will plug TNReady data into evaluations for high school teachers.

“We were petitioning that all teachers receive a raise this year,” Rucker said. “I don’t really understand waiting to factor in results from a test that wasn’t ready. … But the fact remains that cost of living keeps increasing and our pay hasn’t, so this raise will be a very good thing for most of our teachers.”

Shelby County’s raise is being funded using new state money for teacher pay increases, according to Tallent.

This spring, the legislature approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan for a 4 percent increase for Tennessee’s K-12 educators. However, not all teachers will see that increase in their paychecks because of a provision that gives spending leeway to districts that already match or better the state’s weighted average salary of $43,216. Shelby County Schools has the highest average weighted salaries in the state at $54,187. (Read Chalkbeat’s explainer on why the disbursement of Tennessee’s two-year investment in teacher raises can vary from district to district.)

This year’s raise by Shelby County Schools will be the second significant increase for teachers since the 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools and legacy Shelby County Schools. The district awarded raises in 2015 based on seniority. This year’s raises are the first awarded based on performance.

Tresvant said the change in how the district awards raises is all the more reason to clearly communicate the process.

“They need to be even more transparent in their messaging around raises,” Tresvant said. “It would have been awesome to know at the beginning of the year what was going on, so teachers weren’t questioning or confused. Teachers don’t want to feel like this is coming on the backend.”

Incentives

Westminster district will give bonuses if state ratings rise, teachers wonder whether performance pay system is coming

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster.

Teachers and employees in Westminster Public Schools will be able to earn a bonus if they help the struggling district improve its state ratings next year.

The district’s school board on Tuesday unanimously approved the $1.7 million plan for the one-year performance stipends, the district’s latest attempt to lift the quality of its schools.

School employees can earn $1,000 if their school meets a district-set score, or up to $2,000 if they reach a more ambitious goal the school sets. District employees, including the superintendent, can earn $1,000 if the district as a whole jumps up a rating next year.

“We recognize that everyone plays a critical role in increasing student achievement and we decided that if a particular school or the district as a whole can reach that next academic accreditation level, the employees directly responsible should be rewarded,” board president Dino Valente said in a statement.

The district is one of five that was flagged by the state for chronic low performance and was put on a state-ordered improvement plan this spring.

District officials have disputed state ratings, claiming the state’s system is not fairly assessing the performance of Westminster schools. Middle school teacher Melissa Duran, who also used to be president of the teacher’s union, drew a connection between that stance and the new stipends, saying any extra pay she gets would be based on one score.

“The district has gone to the state saying, ‘Why are you rating us on these tests, look at all the other things we’re doing’” Duran said. “Well, it’s the same thing for teachers. They’re still basing our effectiveness on a test score.”

Teachers interviewed Thursday said their first thoughts upon learning of the plan was that it sounded like the beginnings of performance pay.

“I already get the point that we are in need of having our test scores come up,” said math teacher Andy Hartman, who is also head of negotiations for the teacher’s union. “Putting this little carrot out there isn’t going to change anything. I personally do not like performance pay. It’s a very slippery slope.”

District leaders say they talked to all district principals after the announcement Wednesday, and heard positive feedback.

“A lot of the teachers think this is a good thing,” said Steve Saunders, the district’s spokesman.

National studies on the effectiveness of performance pay stipends and merit pay have shown mixed results. One recent study from Vanderbilt University concluded that they can be effective, but that the design of the systems makes a difference.

In Denver Public Schools, the district has a performance-pay system to give raises and bonuses to teachers in various situations. Studies of that model have found that some teachers don’t completely understand the system and that it’s not always tied to better student outcomes.

Westminster officials said they have never formally discussed performance pay, and said that these stipends are being funded for one year with an unanticipated IRS refund.

Westminster teachers said they have ideas for other strategies that could make a quick impact, such as higher pay for substitutes so teachers aren’t losing their planning periods filling in for each other when subs are difficult to find.

Waiting on a bonus that might come next year is not providing any new motivation, teachers said.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Duran said. “It’s not like we are not already working hard enough. Personally, I already give 110 percent. I’ve always given 110 percent.”

Last month, the school board also approved a new contract for teachers and staff. Under the new agreement, teachers and staff got a raise of at least 1 percent. They received a similar raise last year.

Human Resources

Leanne Emm, Colorado education department’s chief financial officer, to retire

Leanne Emm, the state education department's retiring chief financial officer. (Photo courtesy Colorado Department of Education)

A long-running joke among Colorado education officials, policymakers and activists is that only a handful of people really know how Colorado’s complex school funding system works.

One of those people — Leanne Emm, the state’s education department’s deputy commissioner — is retiring later this month after nearly 30 years in public service.

Emm announced her retirement in an email to other school finance officers late last month. Her last day at the department is Sept. 22.

“Each of you helps your students, communities, stakeholders and decision makers with a huge array of issues,” she said in her email. “I can only hope that I will have helped contribute to an understanding of budgetary pressures that we have within the state.”

Emm was appointed to her position in 2011 — about the same time the state’s schools were grappling with deep budget cuts due to Great Recession. She worked at Jeffco Public Schools for 14 years before joining the education department.

Katy Anthes, the state’s education commissioner, said Emm’s exit will be felt at both the state and local school district level.

“Leanne’s leadership and her deep knowledge of the school finance system will be sorely missed by all of us at CDE and by the districts she has supported over the years.” Anthes said in a statement. “I will be forever grateful for her support as I transitioned to this role. I’m sad to see her leave CDE, but I suspect that her love for the state of Colorado and passion for improving education will cause our paths to cross again.”