Friday, November 24, 2006

Merit Pay Chronicles: A Model For The Office Set?

When it comes to merit pay in public schools, they're going to try something new in Chicago: performance-based compensation for school administrators:
Cost-of-living increases are a thing of the past for more than 1,300 administrative employees at the Chicago Public Schools because of a new merit pay system that is virtually unheard of for public employees.

Starting next year, all non-union employees in the district's central and area offices will receive raises based solely on annual reviews and whether they met performance goals.

Typically, central office staff piggyback on the union contracts and get the same annual raises and benefits as teachers. But this year, administrative employees paid more than $40,000 had their salaries frozen to shave $4.5 million off the district's deficit.

"You shouldn't get a raise just because you've been around another year. I don't think that makes sense," said schools chief Arne Duncan. "What we're really trying to do is reward people for doing a great job."

The move is about creating accountability, officials say, but won't necessarily save the district money. In fact, an administrative reorganization triggered pay hikes for some 88 employees downtown that will cost the district about $558,000 this year.

That's because the district created salary ranges for every category of non-union employees working in central office and area offices, based on their job responsibilities rather than their titles. The raises went to 88 employees considered underpaid, and ranged from $474 extra for a sports coordinator to $28,500 more for a data analyst. Seventeen administrative employees, many of them middle managers or technology employees, received raises of more than $10,000.

On the flip side, 85 district employees were considered overpaid based on their responsibilities. Their salaries will not be lowered, but will be frozen indefinitely. They include a secretary being paid $91,000 and nine "attendance coordinators" getting more than $80,000 annually.

The approval of the merit compensation program comes just weeks after the district was awarded a $27.5 million federal grant to create a performance pay system for teachers in 40 schools during the next five years. The grant money will be spent to reward teachers in hard-to-staff schools and those whose students show big gains on state tests.

Also in line for sizable bonuses this year are the district's 22 area instructional officers, who act as regional superintendents directly overseeing 20 to 30 schools each. These administrators could qualify for bonuses of $10,000 or more if their schools improve and if they are successful in grooming top-notch principals to succeed those who retire.

A number of urban school districts have created merit pay programs, but none thus far has eliminated automatic raises for non-union employees, said Henry Duvall, a spokesman for the Council of Great City Schools, which represents 66 of the nation's largest urban districts.

"This would be new, as far as being the first merit-only plan," Duvall said. "But this seems to be the wave of the future. This is something the big-city districts are working toward, accountability on the business side as well as the academic side."
In the over twelve years that I've taught in our mid-sized school district here in California's "Imperial" Valley, classroom teachers have never received any sort or "cost-of-living" increase even though the district's revenues are automatically increased each year to keep pace with inflation.

Whenever there has been an increase (and there has been no increase in take-home pay in over 5 years) it's always referred to by the district's administrators as a "pay raise" and is always tied to increased duties and performance expectations.

As for Chicago's administrative merit-pay scheme, we can't help but wonder if in a city that is notorious for its political corruption, will this end-up being merit pay for Those of Merit or simply subjectively-given windfalls for the Sinecured Set?
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