State expects variety of merit pay plans

Over the next 10 days, Idaho school district leaders and trustees will be finalizing plans for spending $21 million in new state funding.

The Legislature set aside the funding in the budget and asked districts to develop their own plans for spending the money on professional development and a merit-pay system for teachers that is also called differentiated pay.

The only legal requirements are that districts and charters submit their own plans to the state by Oct. 1 and spend no more than 40 percent of the funding on professional development to help implement the Idaho Core Standards.

Early indications are the plans will vary considerably – from fairly straightforward ideas outlined in a single piece of paper or spreadsheet to more detailed proposals that span at least 25 pages.

“At the local level, we expect districts to submit all kinds of different plans to the state,” State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said. “The way the differentiated pay funding is set up this year leaves it up to each local school district to decide how they want to design the plans at the local level.”

Four districts agreed to share their plans with Idaho Ed News prior to the Oct. 1 deadline for submitting them to the state – Caldwell, Garden Valley, Nampa and Twin Falls.

Each of the four districts opted to spend the full 40 percent on professional development – with the remaining 60 percent going to merit pay bonuses.

Caldwell, Twin Falls and Garden Valley officials were able to outline their plans in one-page summaries, while Nampa officials devoted 27 pages to theirs.

Here’s a closer look at each plan:

  • Twin Falls: Both certified and classified staffs will be eligible for bonus awards, meaning building staffers will be able to earn bonuses right alongside classroom teachers. At the elementary level, all certified and classified staff in a building will earn a bonus if 60 percent of a school’s students show growth in IRI or MAZE scores between the fall and spring. At the secondary level, awards are given if student growth between pre- and post-assessments is 15 percent or greater.
  • Garden Valley: Certified staffers will be able to earn bonuses based on overall growth on school-wide writing projects similar to the Direct Writing Assessment. The scores will be tracked using the Lumens student data management system, and teachers may also earn bonuses if the number of students scoring poorly decreases or the number of students scoring highly increases.
  • Caldwell: The district plans to spend $68,000 helping teachers implement Idaho Core through Lee Pesky writing workshops. Additionally, teachers will be able to apply for leadership awards of up to $500 with their building principal.
  • Nampa: District officials plan to pay for one-hour weekly professional development opportunities for certified staffers in April and May. Additionally, May 28 will be set aside as a professional development day, and all staff will be able to earn bonuses based on meeting goals outlined at the individual school level.

Twin Falls officials based their plan on the pay-for-performance proposal they enacted before voters repealed the Students Come First laws in November. Twin Falls director of elementary education Ted Popplewell said leaders in his district wanted to share the money among the different staffs because they recognized folks other than teachers have the ability to forge bonds with students and inspire them to achieve.

“Almost automatically the committee started saying we should share (the money) with certified and classified staffs,” Popplewell said. “That could be a counselor, secretary, custodian, one of the cooks, paraprofessional or elementary librarian.”

The Twin Falls plan is set to go before the school board for final approval Sept. 25, but has already been reviewed by trustees.

Once state officials receive plans from each of the 115 districts and 41 charter schools, they will post them online and compile a summary report for the Legislature. Department staffers also plan to create an end-of-year report to show the results of the plans.

District leaders anticipate receiving the money in February.