Teachers favor raises over bonuses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 6, 2000

Natchez teacher J.D. Wallace worries performance-based bonuses aren’t the best way to reward teachers for their work.

Wallace isn’t alone, especially among local teachers.

National Education Association delegates voted Wednesday on how NEA chapters should handle the issue of performance-based pay if it is ever raised during bargaining with their local school boards. The union said the bonus pay approach should not replace pay based on seniority, nor subject a teacher to the whims of a principal.

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Wallace, a member of the Mississippi Association of Educators, is against performance-based bonuses because he fears it will cause favoritism and an increase in school politics. &uot;I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things they can think of,&uot; said Wallace, who teaches at Natchez High School.

Wallace said too many variables go into teaching, such as which teachers have students who are better achievers as opposed to lower achievers, to make a bonus system effective.

Angela Brooks, a Natchez High teacher who is the District 5 board member for the teacher’s union for the state of Mississippi, is also against the idea of awarding bonuses according to performance. &uot;I don’t think the salary increase should be solely based on teacher performance,&uot; she said. &uot;There should be an amount of accountability, but it shouldn’t be the decisive factor.&uot;

Natchez-Adams Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis said he fears bonuses would create tension among the teaching staff and ultimately inhibit learning. &uot;I think that first we need to pay teachers good quality pay for the job they do,&uot; he said. &uot;I don’t think the states needs to start paying teachers merit pay for actually doing their job.&uot;

Davis favors school-wide bonuses for schools which show improvement to fund items such as computers.

Concordia Parish educators said they believe school districts should focus on raising the base pay for teachers before they tackle the issue of performance-based bonuses. &uot;We need to bring pay up to a decent rate – then let’s talk about bonuses,&uot; said Annette Smith, a teacher at Ferriday Lower Elementary. &uot;There’s a shortage of teachers as it is, and pay needs to be raised to attract more (educators).&uot;

Nita McCann contributed to this report.

Earning a bachelor’s degree with an accreditation college or university and a teaching certificate already shows that a person is qualified to teach, Smith added.

&uot;Then when you go into teaching, you should be able to expect a decent rate of pay,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;We’re not looking for $70,000 or $80,000 a year, just pay that is comparable to other fields.&uot;

Vidalia Junior High Principal Fred Marsalis, who has been an educator for 35 years, agreed that base pay should be raised before bonuses are discussed.

And he believes that such raises should be given without adding more duties to a teacher’s already busy day. In the past, raises have been tied to additional responsibilities.

&uot;Bonuses should be used as an incentive once their (base) pay has been increased,&uot;&160;Marsalis said. In general, he added, &uot;Anything teachers can get, I’m 100 percent behind it. They deserve a lot more than they are getting.

&uot;And if they don’t raise teachers’ pay, they won’t attract enough new teachers to replace the ones who are ready to retire,&uot;&160;said Marsalis, who also plans to retire after the 2000-01 school year.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Nancy Anders of Ferriday High School had not heard much about the NEA vote besides what she read in that morning’s newspaper.

Still, she noted that performance-based pay systems have the potential for problems. &uot;If you base (a bonus) on whether a class gets so many A’s, you might have a teacher give her class all A’s,&uot;&160;Anders said.

Superintendent Lester &uot;Pete&uot; Peterman said he is not totally opposed to merit pay but said districts should focus on other ways to attract qualified teachers.

And he believes many questions would have to be answered before he would support a plan. &uot;You would have to look at how teacher would be evaluated,&uot; Peterman said.

&uot;For example, if a teacher already has a high-scoring class and they’re not able to raise their scores much higher than that, do you penalize the teacher? I’m not saying I’m totally against it, but you have to look at things like that.&uot;