West Bend Teacher Rejects Merit Pay

A couple of weeks ago the Washington County Daily News published my column regarding the upcoming school referendum in West Bend. In that column, I argued that it is not appropriate for the West Bend School Board to ask for more money because (1) fancy buildings don’t lead to better student outcomes, (2) enrollment is declining, and (3) the School Board has failed to be good steward of the money they already have. As examples of poor stewardship, I pointed out that the School Board overpays for insurance and employees pay far below the average for their share of that benefit. I also argued that the School Board has abandoned Merit Pay for their employees. There was a lot in that column…

Anyway, longtime West Bend School District employee and union stalwart, Jason Penterman, took issue with some of the column in a letter to the editor yesterday. Let’s take a look at his feedback. After a preamble, Penterman gets to the meat of his criticism in the last paragraph. Let’s attempt to unpack it:

On July 24, Owen Robinson wrote he’s against any West Bend School District building referendum until the School Board enacts teacher merit pay and makes the employees pay an additional $7,954 for health insurance.

True, kind of. The $7,954 figure is what employees would pay if the district payed the average rate for insurance and asked employees to pay the average percentage for their share. I don’t think that the district necessarily needs to get to that number, but something more than the $49 a month that some employees pay for a family plan would be appropriate.

This would be the second double-digit teacher pay cut in eight years.

To my knowledge, that is not true. As I recall, shortly after Act 10 was passed, the School Board made some changes in the step system to change how fast employees could get raises, but I don’t believe they ever received an actual pay cut. I could be wrong. Even so, there are many people who have received pay cuts in their careers. It happens. It’s never fun, but it happens. And asking teachers to pay a more reasonable share of their generous benefits is not a pay cut.

The current teacher merit pay system originally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, wasted thousands of school hours on meaningless, multiple choice assessments and turned children into numbers.

That’s the perspective of a teacher who didn’t like merit pay. Generally speaking, when people are held to a higher standard of performance for doing a job, they don’t like it. This is particularly true for people who are not very good at their jobs. Accountability sucks when you are used to having free rein.

The community rejected this.

Really? I don’t recall a community vote on this. A merit pay system was never fully implemented in the district. The previous Superintendent and School Board abandoned the idea with nary a discussion.

Why do that again?

Because holding employees accountable for their performance is how the rest of the world works. The taxpayers of West Bend deserve to know that they are getting good results for their investment. Furthermore, great teachers love merit pay because they can maximize their compensation. An aggressive merit pay system would help attract the best teachers to our district. In the end, would it cost more? Perhaps. If we can get better student outcomes with better employees, I think that’s something taxpayers would be willing to pay for.

With the understanding that unfair pay systems and severe employee pay cuts will damage a company’s ability to attract and retain quality employees and this will damage its product and reputation…

Merit pay does not equal pay cuts. Penterman seems to make that assumption. But the only employees who receive pay cuts under a merit pay system are those who are bad at their jobs. Good employees receive bigger, faster pay raises. In fact, very few merit pay systems actuall cut anyone’s pay. They merely heavily weight pay increases to the better performers.

why would anyone support Robinson’s demand for merit pay and that West Bend School District’s teachers undergo another 10 percent to 15 percent pay cut to get a building referendum passed at the expense of the West Bend, Jackson, Newburg, Polk, Trenton, Barton, and Addison students, parents, taxpayers, businesses and communities?

Where did he pull the 10% to 15% pay cut out of? Who said that? But Penterman seems to be fine with forcing every homeowner to forgo the use of their earned income an pay more taxes for new buildings. For what? Fewer kids in those buildings and the same educational outcomes? The goal of merit pay is to improve the actual education delivered to our children by attracting and rewarding the best educators. I’d rather put more money in the good teachers’ pockets than in the pockets of builders and architects.

 

 

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