Up-or-down vote called for on Mehlville merit-pay plan

Felton says individual goals should be placed first

By Mike Anthony

Mehlville Board of Education President Mark Stoner wants board members to take an up-or-down vote on the framework of a proposed merit-pay plan for teachers at their Feb. 20 meeting.

The district’s Compensation Review Committee, which has been studying the issue for roughly 18 months, submitted a plan that emphasizes district goals over individual ones when setting teacher pay. School board members discussed that proposal last week for more than an hour, but no clear consensus emerged.

Board member Larry Felton said individual goals should be placed ahead of district goals, while board Secretary Rich Franz said he wanted more input on the proposal from the Compensation Review Committee. Questions also were raised about whether the existing salary schedule for teachers will work in some form with the proposed merit-pay plan, and Vice President Lori Trakas questioned if the board should consider hiring a consultant to assist in the implementation of the plan.

Both Stoner and board member Elaine Powers serve on the Compensation Review Committee.

At the end of the board’s Jan. 23 discussion, Stoner said, “… I’d like to bring back a formal resolution — Elaine and I can sit down and work and develop it, if you’re willing to do that — to find out exactly where the board is so we can have an up-or-down vote as to whether we’re going to proceed with something like this or not. And that’s just the bottom line …

“We’ve been discussing this for two years. It’s time to decide whether we’re going to move forward or whether we’re not going to — whether we’re going to be throwing stones at this for the next five years or whether we’re going to embrace it. That’s just the bottom line.”

In discussing the goals of the proposed pay plan, Powers said, “… Obviously, it needs to be something that we think is affordable. It needs to be something that meets some of the concerns that the teachers have about how a system might work, one of the big ones being a system wanting to not affect the spirit of collaboration and cooperation that exists among teachers.

“But yet, wanting to hold people individually accountable …”

Of the proposal, Stoner said, “… It really is a filter, starting with the big-picture goals, moving down to the school goals and then moving down to individual goals — so all of them (are) meant to foster collaboration, which always was a big concern with our educational professionals …”

At one point, Trakas said, “… Are we at a point to try to get this pilot program up and going? I mean there are some educational consulting firms that really can help districts take it to the next level to really help implement that. Is that something anybody would be interested in looking into or not? …”

But Felton said, “No, I think there’s still some things to discuss …”

He later added, “… I would invert the order that you do your priorities because I think you reward people on what they have the most control over, and I think you would reward them for personal goals, and then there is an add-on for how it contributes to the building goals and how it contributes to the district goals … There’s a reward for collaboration, and there’s also a reward for the work, for the task at hand …”

Franz later asked Stoner if “the salary schedule, in some form, current or otherwise, and the concept of merit pay can be married together …”

Stoner replied that his “philosophy … is that the salary schedule in its current form today was really, if you put it in a nutshell, it was based on years of experience and academic accomplishment of the individual teacher. That’s what it was based on. There was no performance element in that whatsoever … Now take that and put it in a budgetary format where you do have budget constraints within a district that has a finite amount of income, the salary schedule is working right now.

“So you can use that as high and low points — high and low points to springboard off of. So it’s a natural, logical progression to say: How could the salary schedule fit? Because it already fits in the budget …”

Franz said, “And that’s actually what I was hoping to hear.”

As for Felton’s contention the plan should be inverted, Stoner later said, “… I’d given that serious thought before. So it’s kind of a bottom-up approach versus (a) top-down-goal approach, and the interesting thing about it is, is I guess my overall philosophy is this seems to be a better blend from the educators. Because the one theme that I’ve heard, and you had to have heard this, is collaboration — over and over and over and over again. I mean, I don’t think there was a meeting that it didn’t come up. This seemed to address that. The other point is that, I guess, what does it really matter if an individual educator makes their goals and the district fails?”

Felton interjected that private industry uses that model.

Stoner said he understood that, but if a private business “is failing, than that individual probably will not succeed long term in that. We have a commitment as a district, as a public organization, to succeed long term — not necessarily just the individual, but the whole organization to succeed long term. And our reputation as a district far outweighs the reputation of an individual, and so that’s why I kind of finally bought into that top-down approach …”

At the end of that discussion, Stoner cited board members’ diverse range of opinions regarding the proposal and said he wanted to know “does the board generally like something like this?”

Felton said, “As a planning model to develop process, I think you have a very good working structure …”

Franz interjected, “But I don’t think we’re ready for meet and confer. That’s my opinion.”

Powers asked, “You wanted to shoot it back then to the committee for more work at the committee level?”

Franz said, “I would really love more input from the certified staff and give it back to the committee and say: ‘Come up with something that you like, and let’s talk about it.'”

Stoner told the Call that he would like to bring board members’ comments back to the Compensation Review 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 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.