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Local educators wary of proposed payment plan
Officials say they support linking salary to student achievement, but devil is in the details'
Denise McConnell, a teacher at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, works Wednesday afternoon on a vocabulary lesson with fifth-grade students Fernando Covarrubias, left, and Manuel Rodriquez, bottom.

Local educators say they cautiously support Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to pay teachers based on student performance rather than teachers’ levels of education.

"Many young people today have the idea that the salary ceiling is simply too low in teaching," Perdue said in his State of the State address Wednesday. "That perception effectively shuts many of our best and brightest out of our classrooms."

Perdue called the initiative a commitment to "align our compensation with the mission of our schools," and said it would drive student achievement. The proposed payment system is a substantial portion of the state’s Race to the Top proposal that seeks between $200 million and $400 million in federal funds.

While a 20,000-teacher survey indicates that teachers are open to student achievement-based pay, some take issue with how exactly that achievement will be gauged.

Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said not enough information has been revealed on the issue to determine whether the proposed legislation will be popular with educators.

"One of the challenges public education has faced for generations is the perception, and often the reality, that we operate in an entitlement culture rather than a performance culture. Paying for performance is one of the ideas that I support conceptually, but the devil is in the details," he said.

If the student achievement data is evaluated solely on the state’s standardized Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, many educators say they might be wary of the legislation.

"Georgia has a lot of heavy lifting to do in the next several years to develop a reliable model to measure individual student gain on an annual basis," Schofield said. "I am pleased that the governor’s plan includes a multiyear development phase to ensure that the process is fair and measures true academic growth."

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the district’s teachers participated in the state survey and were open to the idea of compensation based on performance, but had reservations.

"It is in how exactly performance is measured," she said. "The largest concern was the possibility of implementing this with the current accountability system and the current tests."

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said association members are trying to keep an open mind on the issue.

"There’s just not enough information out there about it. What we prefer to do right now is to offer suggestions," he said.

Hubbard suggests legislators also require the new pay scale to take into account student work outside of the CRCT, and for teacher evaluations to include peer reviews.

He said with the proliferation of online degree programs, he understands why the state is taking a fresh look at the advanced-degree payment system that pays teachers statewide at least $500 million annually for their advanced degrees.

Hubbard said, too, that teachers are worried how the state will fund the proposed payment plan as well as how much it will compensate teachers when it could go into effect in 2014. He said the new pay scale would not be announced until 2012, but legislators may be asked to approve the plan this spring.

"It’s like asking the legislature to sign a blank check and fill in the amount later," he said.

Times reporter Ashley Fielding contributed to this report.

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