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Performance pay program working, Eagle County School District says

EAGLE, Colorado – The school district spent almost $745,000 in performance bonuses last year to reward employees under the district’s performance pay program.

The district stepped away from a strict salary increase structure 10 years ago. Instead of lock-step salary increases based on years of employment, employees get performance bonuses.

The money helped buy better classroom instruction and teacher improvement, said Dr. Brian Childress, the school district’s human resources director.



The total performance bonuses break out like this:

• $546,826.21 for salaried employees such as teachers and administrators.

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• $199,722.98 for hourly employees.

The bonus amount previously ran between 0 and 8 percent of a teacher’s salary, district officials said. Budget cuts the last few years reduced that amount to 0 to 4 percent of an annual salary.

The average bonus is 2.09 percent of a school district employee’s annual salary, according to the district’s data.



The federal grant ended that had been funding the program.

“It’s a one-time payout this year,” Childress said

It’s money well spent, Childress said.

Teachers are evaluated based on two criteria: 50 percent student achievement assessments, and 50 percent evaluations by master/mentor teachers and principals.

“The tests are about the students, to make sure they’re learning and progressing,” Childress said.

The district evaluated 523 teachers last year, and only 43 fell into the “needs improvement” category. The preponderance of teachers are meeting or exceeding expectations, Childress said

After budget cuts and job losses, they’ll evaluate 496 teachers this year.

“We’re pushing teachers and giving them support,” Childress said. “It’s helping teachers move above the ‘meets expectations’ level. The bell curve is moving to the right.”

That “meets expectations” level is the middle of the scale on which teachers are graded. No teachers were rated “unacceptable,” Childress said.

The results have to be measured through a value-added model, Childress said. That’s tougher than it seems.

The way most teachers are measured now, the criteria applies to only about 30 percent of teachers, he said.

“It should apply to all teachers,” Childress said.

School districts around the country are trying to measure teacher effectiveness. Some include only student testing and achievement data, while others consider a student’s socio-economic conditions, Childress said.

“How can we record it and how can we reward it?” Childress asked.

Avon Elementary School’s test scores will record growth because of where those students tend to start, said Mike Gass, an administrator with the school district. Brush Creek, on the other hand, will not appear to see such growth because they’re already mostly proficient and advance, Gass said.

“They’re both equally significant,” Childress said.

The Colorado state Legislature made teacher performance evaluations the law last session when it passed House Bill 191. The law mandates teacher effectiveness and requires that it be measured. If teachers don’t measure up three years in a row, they lose their tenure, Childress said.

Eagle County started down this road with a grant from the Milken Foundation at about the same time the school board installed the Teacher Advancement Program. Installing the business model was problematic. Childress said that before long, it was in “meltdown.”

“We got out of it with teacher collaboration and input,” Childress said.

A federal grant kept the program funded. That grant ended this year.

But it gave them time to put together the system they have now, which Childress says is working.

“TAP got a bad name because it was forced on teachers. It’s more collaborative now, and teacher input is a vital part of it,” Childress said.


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