Teachers union, Eagle County Schools agree to dump performance pay bonus structure
District returns to pay increase structure based on seniority and training
EAGLE — Local schools have returned to their salary roots, abandoning a performance-pay bonus system and returning to pay increases based on seniority and training.
The local teachers union — the Eagle County Education Association — and the school district started negotiating the switch back in 2015, after it became apparent that performance pay bonuses for teachers were not improving student performance, according to the school district. The performance pay program also made it more difficult to recruit teachers.
“Teachers investigate school district websites to compare published salary schedules. As the job market becomes more competitive we needed to have a similar device when prospective employees research our district,” said Dan Dougherty, the school district’s chief communications officer.
Teachers were happy to see performance pay tossed onto the scrap heap.
“It was a joint effort. It provides transparency and fairness for teachers, so they know what they’re getting,” said Karen Kolibaba, president of the Eagle County Education Association. “When we have positive working conditions, we have positive learning conditions for our students, and we’re all here for our students.”
TAP tapped out
Beginning in early 2000s, the school district’s Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, tied teacher pay to evaluations and standardized test scores. Instead of salary increases based on years of employment, employees received performance bonuses.
The money was supposed buy better classroom instruction and teacher improvement, the school district said at the time.
However, depending on who was talking about it and when, TAP was either a brilliant innovation or a source of confusion and frustration for teachers and principals. Initially, a federal grant picked up part of the $750,000 annual tab, but the school district was stuck with it when the federal grant money ran out.
In those early TAP years, performance pay bonuses were based largely on students’ standardized test scores related to individual teachers, as well as the teachers’ evaluations. The higher their student’s test scores, the bigger the teachers’ performance pay bonuses.
Initially, the bonuses ran between 0% and 8% of a teacher’s salary. Standardized test scores determined 4% of a teacher’s potential bonus, with the other 4% based on teacher evaluations.
Over the years the performance-pay program was pushed through several iterations. In recent years the formula shifted to districtwide test scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and standardized tests for English language learners, Kolibaba said.
The teachers union has been opposed to the pay-for-performance model for years. In fact, in their annual negotiations, union leaders advocated returning to the more traditional salary schedule based on seniority and training.
“Teachers believe the salary schedule structure provides greater transparency, fairness, and financial predictability than the pay-for-performance model,” Dougherty said. “We returned to the salary schedule to satisfy their request and eliminate unnecessary tension.”
Money remains the same
During negotiations for this year’s contract, the school district and teachers union completed the move back salary schedule which includes “steps” and “lanes” — steps referring to how many years a teacher has been teaching, and lanes referring to how much training and education the teacher has.
An annual salary increase will be around 3.22%, as long as state funding remains consistent, Kolibaba said. The school district calls those “step” increases.
Teachers who get extra training can earn $1,250 more, which the school district calls “lane” increases.
The 2019-2020 contract increased the base teacher salary to $42,000. The new teacher pay scale tops out at $101,829.
This was the first year for the salary schedule, but getting there was a multi-year process, Kolibaba said.
“We wanted to research our options and to make sure we did not jump into a bigger mess,” Kolibaba said.
The school district spends the same amount of money on pay and benefits under the more traditional salary structure, as it did under the now-abandoned performance pay system, Dougherty said.
“The same amount of available funding goes toward pay, whether it’s pay-for-performance or schedule-based. The difference is nominal,” Dougherty said. “Eagle County Schools always budgets as much as possible to salaries and raises, regardless of the model.”
Raises not guaranteed
The school district’s return to a more traditional salary schedule does not guarantee staffers an annual pay increase.
First, the school district has to have the money for across-the-board pay increases for its hundreds of employees.
Second, staffers have to perform to receive a step-up in pay. The steps are not based only on the number of years worked.
“Our stated goal is to attract and retain quality educators, and moving to the salary schedule helps us do that,” Dougherty said.
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