Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Luna promotes financial incentives for teachers

Superintendent of education speaks to local Republicans


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Tom Luna

A proposed bill would motivate teachers to do a better job by granting them pay increases if they are willing to work under renewable contracts rather than being tenured, Idaho Superintendent of Education Tom Luna said last week.

Luna promoted the proposal in a lecture before the Republican Women of Blaine County on Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Golden Eagle Clubhouse north of Hailey. He said the proposed Idaho State Teachers Advancement and Recognition System (I-STARS) would provide $60 million in incentive pay to both individual teachers and schools.

"This is essentially a career ladder system," Luna said. "I-STARS will move Idaho away from the status quo and award teaching, which is the noblest of professions."

Despite ranking among the top 10 states in students' reading comprehension and in the top 20 for math, Idaho pays its teachers salaries that rank near the bottom. Luna said I-STARS would raise the starting salary for a certified teacher from the current $31,000 per year to $38,000 per year, bringing Idaho teacher pay from 34th in the nation to within the top 20.

I-STARS, if passed by the state Legislature, would financially reward a school's entire teaching staff for improved academic performance among its students based on annual ISAT testing scores. The plan would also allow local school communities to reward "hard-to-fill" positions with annual bonuses of up to $2,400 per year.

Under the I-STARS plan, teachers would be given the option of accepting a $2,400 per year salary increase if they abandon the tenure track for renewable three-year contracts. In an interview, Blaine County School Superintendent Jim Lewis said that would give school districts more flexibility in determining their staffing needs. He said the proposed plan is a compromise between legislators who wanted to eliminate tenure and teachers who need some job security.

"We became painfully aware that the Idaho legislators were not going to put any more money into teachers' salaries as long as the existing salary schedule was in place," Lewis said.

He said the Blaine County School District has been very willing to fire unproductive or unneeded teachers, but that smaller districts have trouble doing so due to the lengthy and complicated process that tenure requires before a teacher can be fired.

Luna said the proposed bill would provide enough money for teachers who might otherwise be looking for administrative positions in order to receive higher pay.

"This career opportunity tier of I-STARS is intended to keep excellent teachers in the classroom," Luna said.

He said teachers would also be paid more for leadership practices such as teacher mentoring and participation in after-school programs.

Luna said the I-STARS incentive plan would attract well-qualified teachers to schools that are struggling academically.

"That is where the most growth can occur, and also where the most bonus pay can be found."

If passed into law during this winter's legislative session, I-STARS could become available in Idaho schools by July.




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