Facebook Twitter
Hundreds of teachers attend the Shelby County School Board meeting in January to express concern about the district's performance-based pay plan.

Hundreds of teachers attend the Shelby County School Board meeting in January to express concern about the district’s performance-based pay plan.

Hopson postpones teacher pay-for-performance proposal

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has scrapped a proposal to reward teachers next school year based on their performance in the classroom, several sources told Chalkbeat on Monday.

The administration instead may propose that teachers continue to be paid next school year based on years of experience, according to information included in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. District leaders also may reintroduce the school system’s earlier policy of rewarding teachers for degrees attained.

In addition, teachers would receive any raises funded through the state legislature – which would be their first pay increases in more than two years, according to Keith Williams, president of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, who has been in negotiations with administrators over a new agreement between the district and the county’s largest teacher union.

The board is expected to discuss the pay plan Tuesday evening in Memphis, along with a separate three-year Memorandum of Understanding with the local teachers union. A vote could come as early as March 31.

Hopson explained Tuesday that he heard teachers’ concerns about the fairness of changing the pay scale based on performance – just as the district is changing its academic standards.

“Our teachers have been through a lot in the last two years between the merger and the de-merger,” Hopson said of the 2013 merger of the former Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools, as well as the subsequent departure of six suburban communities creating their own school systems. “We’re constantly asking them to do more with less. Teachers wanted to be heard. They felt like this process was too fast and we were  forcing something down their throat.”

Board Chairwoman Teresa Jones said she was supportive of the move.

“I support Hopson’s agreement with the teachers at this time,” Jones said Monday. “I had initial apprehensions – not with the concept of merit pay but with the fact that the evaluation tool is so fluid and I didn’t think at this time we were ready to implement merit pay with all the issues surrounding the evaluation. I am supportive of this pay not being based on merit at this time.”

Hopson’s change of heart comes after the district heard protests from teachers who labeled the new compensation plan simplistic, unfair and based on a flawed measuring stick. Board members also expressed reservations about the timing and specifics of such a sweeping change.

Shelby County Schools is the state’s largest public school district. Employing about 7,000 teachers, it is also one of the county’s largest employers.

Hopson proposed in December to tie teacher pay to the state’s Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) scores, which are based on student test scores, a series of evaluations and student surveys. Under the plan, teachers could earn increases of $1,200, $1,000 or $800 for scoring at the top three levels up to $73,000. Salaries would remain the same for teachers scoring in the bottom two levels.

The pay initiative was designed to attract and retain the state’s best teachers and weed out less effective ones. While the district has the highest pay in Tennessee, it ranks near the bottom academically, with only a third of its third-grader students reading on grade level. Because of chronic academic underperformance, 30 Shelby County schools have been taken over by the state, and several more are at risk.

Most recently, some of the district’s better-performing teachers have left to teach in suburban municipal districts that still reward teachers for degrees attained, or at charter schools that often pay new teachers more.

In January, hundreds of teachers decked in red packed the monthly board meeting to voice their displeasure with the merit pay proposal. They pointed out that the district, which is in the process of cutting millions of dollars from its budget, couldn’t afford to give pay bumps to all teachers if they all performed at the highest level on the TEM scale and that the TEM rubric frequently is changed by the state and the district. They also said the new pay scale didn’t take into account whether a teacher is working in a high-poverty school or participating in professional development programs.

“I think that rewarding teachers based on compensation is an admirable goal and is what teachers deep down want to see,” said Jon Alfuth, a Memphis charter school teacher and blogger who studied the proposed pay scale. “But what Shelby County was proposing, I’d question whether it would make the sort of impact on teacher recruitment and retention I think they want.”

Alfuth reported that the only teachers who would financially benefit from the proposed pay scale were high-performing teachers with a bachelor’s degree. “For everyone else, it’s either a net wash or a net loss,” he said Monday. “This makes me worried that teachers in traditionally low-performing schools are going to leave those schools because they’d be afraid that they won’t get the pay increases they’re getting now.”

Many observers told Chalkbeat that Hopson may reintroduce the merit pay proposal next year.

On Tuesday evening, the board also is expected to discuss a proposed contract between the teachers union and district administrators. The last contract expired in 2012 and, during the last two years, the district has been in negotiations with leaders of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association. During that time, the association has sued the district seven times over issues related to pay and evaluations.

Williams, president of the local teachers union, said the Memorandum of Understanding will guarantee an extra personal day for teachers with 18 years of service, a stable insurance rate, a more defined work day and a set amount of hours teachers would have to stay after school for professional development and faculty meetings.

“We got the best [Memorandum of Understanding] we could’ve gotten,” Williams said Monday. “This is probably the best one in the state.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story UPDATES a previous version to include more details in grafs 2-4 about pay plans under consideration

Contact Daarel Burnette II at dburnette@chalkbeat.org or (901) 260-3705.

Follow us on Twitter: @Daarel, @chalkbeattn.

Like us on Facebook.

Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news.