Board conditionally approves salary plan based on teacher performances

The Lafayette Parish School Board conditionally approved a salary plan last week tied to new teacher performance evaluations to comply with an April 1 deadline set by the state.

The board gave its conditional approval only to meet the state’s deadline and sent the pay plan back to a compensation committee for further review in response to one teacher’s emotional appeal for a more equitable plan.

The new salary schedule or plan compensates teachers based on their performance rating under the state’s new evaluation model that considers student performance and classroom observations.

The highest performance rating is “highly effective,” which enables teachers to earn or retain protection and rights against termination, also known as tenure. A step below highly effective is “proficient,” followed by “emerging,” and the lowest rating with possible consequences of termination or loss of tenure is an “ineffective” rating.

Based on the Lafayette Parish’s pay-for-performance plan, an emerging teacher in a high-demand area such as special education or at a low-performing school would receive an additional $690 — which is more than the $605 a highly effective teacher not in a high-demand area would receive.

The board approved the pay-for-performance plan at its March 20 meeting.

Before its unanimous vote, veteran teacher Nancy Romero told members the pay plan was unfair to highly effective teachers who would receive less than lower-rated teachers who are in “demand” positions.

“I’m just fed up,” Romero said as she tried to fight back tears, “And I’m highly effective. … Please take a look at this. The teachers I know and work with are highly effective and this doesn’t cut it.”

Romero said she didn’t think she was alone in her frustration.

“I’d like to teach forever, but my 20 years is approaching next year and I think I’m done,” she said. “I think a lot of teachers feel that way. I do wish we would be considered more. I wish we would be given a little professional courtesy, but this isn’t fair.”

The plan was developed based on a $1.5 million budget using 2011-12 data and the evaluations of 1,600 teachers rated under the new system. Input from a teacher advisory group, representatives of teacher associations and school campus administrators shaped it, district human resource director Bruce Leininger told the board.

On Tuesday, Leininger said the compensation committee included only one special education teacher. He said the committee set the parameters for the demand-pay positions, which applies to teachers of special education or who are at academically unacceptable schools, or at Moss Preparatory Academy, the district’s site for students with discipline issues.

The process included an “at-will gripe session” and lengthy deliberations, Leininger said Tuesday.

During the board’s March 20 meeting, Leininger grew agitated as he defended the group’s work following Romero’s comments, and when he took his seat in the audience, he said loudly in Romero’s direction, “You betrayed your rank and file.”

Leininger later apologized for what he described as an “outburst.”

During the meeting, one teacher on the committee, who did not identify herself to the board, asked the board for more direction on the changes it wants to see in the plan and said the group considered issues raised by Romero.

“Trust me,” she said to Romero. “What you’re saying right there, the tears, it was all in there.”

Leininger said Tuesday he’s awaiting direction from the board on potential changes to the compensation plan.

Currently, the schedule includes a $125 increase regardless of a teacher’s years in the classroom. The amount that varies is tied to the teacher’s effectiveness rating. Teachers who receive an ineffective rating will not receive a pay increase. The lowest pay increase a teacher may receive is $465, which is for an emerging effective rating and four years or less of experience. The amount is based on the current lowest annual step increase, which is $464.

The highest increase a teacher may receive is $1,000, which is for a highly effective teacher in a demand position.

The legislation that created the new accountability system for teacher performance is in the judicial system. The state is in the process of appealing a state district court decision that ruled the legislation unconstitutional. Meanwhile, school districts are proceeding with the mandates laid out in the legislation, including the new pay-for-performance plan and the new evaluations.

While Leininger previously told board members they could use the plan for “kindling” if the court upheld the district court’s ruling, he clarified last week that the board could still move forward with a pay-for-performance model, if it chooses.