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Vincent Carroll Sounds Bold Themes of Dougco School Board Budget Proposal

Last week I brought your attention to the Douglas County school board’s bold proposals heading into historic open negotiations. (Thank you, Parent Led Reform!) While I’m little and sometimes notice things that most big people do not, that’s certainly not the case with the Dougco budget proposal.

In fact, Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll yesterday delved into a few areas I barely touched on, particularly in relation to how district teachers are paid:

In contract negotiations with the district’s teacher union, the board has signaled it wants to move toward a system in which pay scales are related to the relative scarcity (or abundance) of various categories of teachers. That way, the district hopes to attract the best possible applicants.

In other words, if the district gets hundreds of applications every time it has an opening for a physical education instructor but only a few applications to teach AP calculus, why should it pay the same for both of those career paths?

While you won’t see any school districts of size (and perhaps none at all) offering this kind of differential pay, it’s not entirely unheard of in Colorado K-12 education. In his 2011 issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explained how The Classical Academy, one of Colorado’s oldest, largest and most successful charter schools, has used a “market demand factor” to differentiate pay based on teaching job description. At TCA, for example, a new hard-to-find advanced Latin instructor makes considerably more than an entry-level elementary or physical education teacher.

Carroll also praises the Dougco Board’s idea of shifting money away from salary rewards for advanced degrees to create a truly performance-based pay system. The Post columnist observes that none other than Democratic U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has publicly stated how “little evidence” support the notion of “master’s bumps” as a productive use of education tax dollars. Since he brought it up, now is a perfect time to remind everyone about the research blowout on this point.

Interestingly, at last week’s Brown Bag Lunch event, Dr. Marcus Winters noted that: a) more research shows teacher master’s degrees have a negative impact than a positive impact, and b) the combined effect of advanced degrees and experience account for a mere 3 percent of the differences in teacher quality. Reassessing the priorities of what we base teacher pay on seems like an absolutely essential course of action.

Carroll also touts the Board’s commonsense recommendation to end the practice of giving large severance bonuses to departing senior teachers and offering retention bonuses instead. Pay teachers to leave, or pay teachers to stay? At least it’s clear where the incentive is.

Finally, the column correctly notes that “The most controversial proposals…go after union privileges.” Here’s where the boldness most obviously comes in. The given politics of education demand boldness to address some commonsense ideas of good stewardship and basic fairness.

What is wrong with looking out for taxpayers to ensure funds are used in classrooms rather than for union officials’ leave time? What about giving teachers a fair choice of unions and other organizations that have equal opportunity to use district communication systems and facilities? What about allowing teachers to determine which organization best serves their needs and will be most accountable to them through direct dues payments?

Not exactly standard fare for the culture of a large public school district. Perhaps then you see why one negotiation session isn’t nearly enough to work out this series of significant proposals.

Carroll’s piece was great, but for those inclined to the spoken word, Dougco’s budget proposal also received the attention of the region’s biggest talk radio show, as Mike Rosen spent an hour last Thursday interviewing school board president John Carson. It’s a must-listen!