Mehlville panel to vote on proposed merit-pay plan

Goal of merit-pay proposal discussed by Knost, board

By Mike Anthony

The Mehlville School District’s Compensation Review Committee is scheduled to vote this week on whether the framework of a proposed merit-pay plan should be sent to negotiation teams representing the Board of Education and district teachers.

The Compensation Review Committee plans to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

The committee, which has been studying the issue for roughly 18 months, recently submitted a plan that emphasizes district goals over individual ones when setting teacher pay. Board of Education President Mark Stoner and board member Elaine Powers serve on the Compensation Review Committee.

At their Jan. 23 meeting, school board members discussed the proposal for more than an hour, but no clear consensus emerged. After that meeting, Stoner told the Call that he would like to bring board members’ comments back to the committee.

“… I want to go back and I’d like to get a resolution from that committee, saying: ‘We like this.’ Then I want to go back to the board and say: ‘This is what this committee has said. I would like a formal resolution from you to take to the negotiation team.’ And that seems like a logical path to take,” he said.

The school board ultimately will decide whether it wants to send the plan to the Mehlville National Education Association, or MNEA, for negotiations, as required by an agreement signed by the board and the MNEA in its last round of negotiations in 2012.

During the board’s recent discussion of performance pay, also called merit pay, Superintendent Eric Knost said he was unclear about the goal of the proposal.

“… The ultimate measure of success is what are we trying to accomplish with that, and I just don’t know. I think there are some individual thoughts about that. I don’t know that that’s ever been formulated into a thought that can be published or talked about …,” he said.

“When people in the community talk to me about — they don’t say performance pay; they say merit pay — every time, the conversation ends up in that it’s an attempt to save money … That’s why I think just the end goal needs to be clarified by the board going forward. So when it’s done, we can come back and say — a year later, two years later, three, whatever — ‘It did what the intent of it to do was.’

“… And I don’t know that that’s ever been (articulated) — even by the committee, by the board or anybody …”

Board member Ron Fedorchak later said the answer to Knost’s question lies in the Board of Education’s goals.

“… If you go to our board goals, the fifth goal is to ‘recruit, attract, develop, provide professional development and retain highly qualified staff’ … If this plan works, that should do all of those things …,” he said.

Knost said, “… That’s a really concrete example of what I’m talking (about) …”

If the goal of the plan is “to cause people to desire to come work in the Mehlville School District, as opposed to the Kirkwood School District or the Rockwood School District, I think that’s a very concrete example …,” the superintendent said.

“I think the public and the community need to hear that this is the intent of this exercise so it can always be referenced, again, a year after implementation, a couple of years, and it may be totally different people sitting around this (board) table,” Knost added.

Stoner said, “… It will be different people.”

Both Stoner and Powers opted not to seek re-election in April.

Board Secretary Rich Franz, who is seeking re-election, later said, “… Eric, to your point about the comments you get about merit pay in the community, and I’m curious about that because everyone I’ve talked to about this issue has a smile on their face when they talk about that. Because the majority of people work in the private sector and they understand that you get paid for doing a good job.

“There is a perception — it may not be a great perception. I know our certified staff resents it, I would, too, if I were them — that some teachers get paid to show up because we have a salary schedule and they’ve put in their years.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our staff to embrace this idea and put that idea to rest, finally — bury it — because this whole concept says to the community that we value the contributions of our employees, and we value the contributions of those employees who are dedicated to their craft and willing to dedicate themselves to our kids and be the best they can be. We’re going to recognize them and reward them for that,” Franz added.

Knost said, “I love what you just said, and so much that I will challenge you that the day when I’m paying teachers $98,000 for the good work that they do, which wouldn’t be long because our teachers are underpaid, that you’ll come back and help me fight off those critics that are telling me we have a system in place that pays teachers too much money.”

Franz replied, “I will help you find a way to pay those teachers. I will be the first one to admit that I am not against saving money. I love saving money. And for those people who think that this system is only about saving money, I would say to them, take a look in the private sector, where this has worked and see how salaries have increased …

“In some cases, they’ve increased exponentially for some people, and so I’ll be happy to help you find the money to pay those teachers who deserve it.”