Finding a Better System

On Monday night, the Steamboat Springs Educational Excellence Committee took a preliminary step in eliminating a program it feels is not working: pay-for-performance teacher bonuses.

The bonus system, meant to encourage and reward good teaching, has come under fire recently for not working the way it was intended. Currently, the bonuses are linked strictly to student performance on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. While CSAP results are an important tool for school accountability, they are not the best measure of teacher performance, many teachers and administrators have argued.

The Educational Excellence Committee will make its recommendations to the Education Fund Board, which ultimately decides how half-cent sales tax funds should be spent. The pay-for-performance program would cost the district some $400,000 next year if awarded.

If the program isn't working, we agree entirely with finding a better way. After all, the Education Fund Board always has more funding requests than money to grant.

However, it is important to remember the funding in question is taxpayer money, and taxpayers have an important say in how that money should be spent. In 1999, taxpayers voted to continue the half-cent sales tax on the promise that the funds would be used, in part, to develop performance-based compensation linked to student achievement. In asking voters to extend the tax until 2009, the district made a promise that it would be used for performance-based compensation. That promise must be kept.

Even if the current pay-for-performance program isn't working, it isn't up to the Education Fund Board or the school district to redirect all of that money to capital improvements or growth needs, the other two areas funded by the half-cent tax.

In discussing the potential demise of pay for performance, Education Fund Board President Jim Gill noted that, "The last time we asked the voters to support the half-cent sales tax, clearly and without question, creating an incentive-based system for the employees of the district was what the voters asked for. If we're going to change it, we need to go back to the voters and say, 'this isn't going to work, and here's why.'"

He's right.

The current pay-for-performance system does not appear to be effective. But given the taxpayers' 1999 vote, the Education Fund Board should either go back to voters for approval to redirect those funds or create a more effective pay-for-performance system.

Voters have said they want good teachers rewarded for their work. Until they say otherwise, the Fund Board has an obligation to provide those rewards.

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