Gainesville City Schools is taking a closer look at performance-based pay, a component of Georgia's Race to the Top application.
"One commitment was to study it and possibly practice implementing it here," Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
School officials held a presentation on the topic at Monday's school board meeting and are teaming up with neighboring school systems, including Gwinnett, White and Hall counties, to form a research group.
Former Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal was to base part of a teacher's evaluation on how well the teacher's students grow academically and to base some of their pay on that evaluation. The evaluation would also include reviews from peer teachers and administrators.
The concept has drawn mixed reactions from educator groups.
Opponents argue it would result in an even stronger reliance on standardized tests and dissuade teachers from seeking advanced degrees. But supporters say it provides young educators with a faster way to earn more and increases pay for highly qualified teachers.
The current pay scale gives raises to teachers based on their level of education and seniority.
"There's no discernible difference between your degree and student achievement. And so we think that's not a very good way to compensate professionals," said Andy Miller, presenter and Gainesville High School math teacher.
He added that a salary boost could prove helpful, as many potential teachers are lost to private industry.
"A lot of people in the community want to be teachers but can't take the pay cut," he said.
Last August, Georgia was named as one of 10 winners for the second round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition for school reform. The state was awarded $400 million to share among districts that opted to accept the money and included Gainesville and Hall County.
In Georgia's 200-page application, it stated the money must be applied to specific goals, such as data systems that support instruction. One section included merit pay based on test scores.
School districts that accepted Race to the Top money will help give feedback on the pay plan.
On Monday night, the Gainesville school board looked at possible models for the plan.
School board member Delores Diaz showed that teachers would begin with a base salary and be rated under three tiers - highly effective, effective or ineffective. Pay increases would be based on a running three-year average.
"You can't just achieve great things one year and expect to be paid continuously on those results," Diaz said.
She said there could be multiple teacher assessments, including standardized test scores, observations, teacher portfolios and surveys.
Diaz said pay for performance isn't a new idea.
The board member, also a former art teacher, said it is nearly impossible to measure student improvement in noncore subjects such as art and physical education.
"I'm cautiously optimistic it can work," she said. "I want to make sure it's fair for everybody."
Teachers in the audience also voiced concerns about the pay system. In the model the district looked at, educators could earn a significant boost in pay after three years if labeled "highly effective." But to fund the increases, teachers wondered if that could lead to cuts in base salaries.
Diaz said the district is curious about that as well.
"That is one of the many questions not answered yet," Diaz said.
She added, "This is only one model, not the model. There are many."
School officials said before any new pay system is put into place, there would need to be several improvements within the district to ensure teachers and students succeed.
Some ideas included placing teachers in subjects or grade levels they teach well.
Miller said teachers will need to be a part of the process.
With the current proposal, all new teachers would fall under the pay system, but teachers already in the system would have the choice to opt out.
Dyer said the pay for performance system has a long road, and it will probably be three or four years before the state takes any action on the issue.