Jeffco Board Steps Up to Reward Outstanding Teachers

Like a lot of kids my age, I get a weekly allowance. It may not seem like much to you, but five bucks buys me an awful lot of valuable stuff (mostly candy). But my allowance isn’t unconditional; I get more when I’m good than when I’m bad. I get more for good grades than bad grades. Seems fairly reasonable, right?

Teacher salaries are, of course, very different from my allowance. Yet, the same principle applies: We ought to reward those who do great work, and provide incentives for those who could do better to improve. Is it really fair to give teachers who are doing an outstanding job the same pay raise (in some cases, even less) than someone rated less than effective?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Last night, Ken Witt on the Jefferson County School Board put forward what some are portraying as a radical proposal in the district’s ongoing compensation negotiations with the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA).

The proposal represents a stark departure from a recommendation put forward by an “independent third party” just yesterday, which states that Jeffco should offer raises to teachers rated “partially effective.” By a 3-2 vote, the board rejected that recommendation because it did not align with the district’s goal of ensuring high-quality teachers for every student.

In contrast with the fact finder’s report, Witt’s proposal seems consistent with Jefferson County’s commitment to making sure that every student has an effective teacher. And I’d say that paying teachers based on their actual performance makes an awful lot more sense than handing out raises simply for holding a job for a long period of time. That is, after all, how the real world functions.

And lest we forget, the board majority has increased total employee compensation from nearly $12 million up to $18 million — more than 50 percent! Witt’s proposal also contains a clause that stipulates a minimum salary of $38,000 per year for every teacher in Jefferson County. In a district where salaries have been frozen since 2010, these seem like welcome developments. The incentives offer by Witt would be over and above this baseline salary increase.

I applaud Jeffco’s latest move toward more a sensible (and fair) pay structure for teachers. In fact, I’d like to see the same system expanded to cover principals and other employees. Education is, after all, a team effort. Let’s make sure that everyone in the process has incentives to do great work.

No policy is perfect at the outset, and there may well be some issues that need to be ironed out. As the third-party report points out, those issues will likely be most prominent on the evaluation side of the debate. These are important issues, and they should be carefully examined. These policies should, after all, drive excellence, not distrust.

Evaluation issues notwithstanding, this is a valuable move toward a more sensible pay structure. Now we just need to wait and see how it plays out in the district’s compensation negotiations.