Group pushes for incentive pay in EBR

A state education group is collecting signatures in hopes of persuading the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to offer top teachers up to $5,000 in incentive pay for working in low-performing public schools.

Officials of the organization, Stand for Children, say they have collected about 800 names since June 8 and hope to get 1,500 and present them to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board in August or September.

“We all know that teachers are the game-changers for students,” said Khadijah Thompson, an organizer for the group in Baton Rouge.

Stand for Children, which may offer seed money to launch the pay plan, says it favors highly effective teachers for all students, rigorous expectations, high-performing pre-kindergarten classes and multiple school options.

It is headed by Rayne Martin, a former top official of the state Department of Education who was a key player in early efforts to set up new evaluations for teachers.

Yolanda Braxton, a parent of three children who attend schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said she has knocked on doors with the group and on her own, mostly on weekdays.

“I just feel that if we have effective teachers then our kids have a better chance,” Braxton said.

Bernard Taylor, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said one of several questions is how the incentives would be financed.

“My concern is sustainability,” Taylor said.

“I am not sure in the aggregate that it is something that is sustainable.”

David Tatman, president of the East Baton Parish School Board, said Thursday that the proposal is worth considering if funds are available.

“I do appreciate their spirit,” Tatman said of the group. “They are wanting better teachers in the classroom.”

The district has about 3,000 teachers and an annual operating budget of about $410 million.

Raymond Allmon, who is Baton Rouge director of Stand for Children, said the group would be willing to offer up to $70,000 if the board authorized teacher incentive pilot projects.

“I think an amount between $1,000 and $5,000 is something that should be substantial enough for teachers to go to these schools,” he said.

Allmon said Belfair and Merrydale elementary schools are possible sites for any pilot project.

He said names are being collected by going door to door and through online petitions.

Thompson said backers envision the extra pay going to teachers rated highly effective, which is top rung, on Louisiana’s annual reviews.

Taylor said the district already has the ability to reassign teachers.

“I think the caution I always give people is highly effective in one environment does not equate to highly effective in another,” he said.

Taylor added, “The questions that come up are myriad. There needs to be a lot more study before we could commit.”

Tatman said he is unsure whether a teacher’s label should be the “litmus test” on whether he or she qualifies for extra pay.

Backers of incentive pay said another factor is the district’s decision earlier this year to transfer some students to bolster scores at troubled schools.

“Instead of moving the students around to change the grades, let’s get a high-performing teacher in front of every student in these failing schools in hopes that student achievement goes up,” Allmon said.