Greater Transparency is Needed Before Endorsing Douglas County School District’s Pay for Performance Plan
Even though Douglas County School District failed to gain the required support to fund the infrastructure and operating costs for a new Pay for Performance plan in the 2011 mill levy override and bond election, the District’s newly-designed Pay for Performance system is under development in the current school year and employees have been invited to participate in the pilot. The District’s decision to proceed with Pay for Performance concerns the Strong Schools Coalition due to the plan’s lack of details, lack of employee support and lack of financial sustainability. In part one of our two-part series, we take a look at the financial sustainability of the District’s new Pay for Performance plan.
Pay for Performance is not new to Douglas County School District. First implemented in 1993 and supported by 90% of employees, Douglas County was one of the first school districts in the nation to implement a Pay for Performance compensation system. The District received national recognition for its Pay for Performance system, which rewarded teachers for individual and/or collaborative achievements. Unfortunately, the program was suspended many years ago when Douglas County, like other local school districts, was required to cut budgets in response to the massive state cuts to education funding.
Douglas County receives between $500 and $1000 less in per pupil funding than its neighboring school districts each year, which equates to approximately $31 to $62 million less operating revenue. In 2011, Douglas County School District asked the voters to approve a mill levy override, which would have provided $10 – 26 million in additional annual funding to be applied towards a new Pay for Performance plan for teachers. In addition, part of the $200 million bond would have paid for the development and infrastructure needed to implement Pay for Performance. Indeed, voters were told that if the mill levy override and bond did not pass, the District would see a “significant setback to technology infrastructure needed to appropriately measure the performance of staff – impact to pay-for-performance framework”*.
Year after year of budget cuts have increased pupil/teacher ratios, cut valuable student programs and increased student fees. Last year the District was unable to give teachers and classified staff a 1% pay increase without cutting an equivalent amount of benefits, such as severance pay and knowledge level advancement pay. In addition, significant cuts were made to the high schools last year regardless of multiple pleas from the public to halt these additional cuts. Given the failure of the 2011 mill levy override and bond, the Strong Schools Coalition believes that the only way Douglas County School District can afford a Pay for Performance system is to implement one or more of the following measures:
- Decrease operating or administrative expenditures,
- Offset an increase to some teachers’ salaries by decreasing other teachers’ salaries,
- Decrease the number of teachers,
- Decrease other programs and/or opportunities for students; and/or
- Raise additional funds.
Because we have heard no mention from the District of a plan to raise additional funds, the Strong Schools Coalition asks for answers to the following questions:
- What is the cost of the technology infrastructure required to implement and maintain a Pay for Performance system?
- How will the technology infrastructure be funded?
- If the $4.2 million that has been allocated to employees in the past for Pay for Performance is used to award Pay for Performance in the future, how will this be accomplished under a system that awards ongoing salary increases vs. monetary bonuses?
- Is Pay for Performance being prioritized over a reduction to student/teacher ratios, additional support to the classrooms and reduction of student fees, which is contrary to past feedback received from parents of Douglas County students?
- With the average teacher salary already several thousands dollars less than neighboring districts, how will this plan attract and retain high quality teachers?
Voters were told in 2011 that Pay for Performance needed additional funding in order to proceed as planned. By proceeding with the development of Pay for Performance without being transparent about the implementation and ongoing costs of the system, the District is providing a confusing picture about its available resources, making it difficult to endorse the new plan. The Strong Schools Coalition recommends:
The District be transparent concerning what the costs are for the Pay for Performance system – the costs include all development, implementation and maintenance costs, including the cost of the additional technology infrastructure and a projected annual and ongoing cost of the system.
The District be transparent concerning the source of funding for these costs considering the failure of the 2011 bond and mill levy and the recent cuts to high schools seem to imply that funding is not available to support pay for performance at this time.
The District clearly articulate the prioritization of Pay for Performance along with other budget priorities such as reduction of class sizes and decreasing student fees.
Given the District’s current lack of funding in respect to its neighboring districts, it is unclear how Pay for Performance will accomplish the goal of attracting and retaining high quality teachers. By providing the public with information regarding the full implementation and maintenance costs of this system, as well as the source of those funds, the public will be equipped to engage in the conversation regarding the priorities of how District resources are allocated.