West Bend School District Abandons Merit Pay

I attended the two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Committee of the Whole of the West Bend School Board last night. That’s the committee comprised of all of the board members, but they don’t vote on anything. They debate and discuss various agenda topics. Last night they covered a few topics including goings on at the Elementary Schools, economic development and growth in the district, facilities, and teacher compensation. I’ll get to the rest another time, but the teacher compensation part was instructive.

For background, several years ago the conservative majority on the school board used the power of Act 10 to create a teacher compensation plan that included the first attempt at merit pay. Under that plan, a part of a teacher’s compensation would have been determined by their student’s performance and educational outcomes. Since then, all of the conservatives on the board are gone and have been replaced by liberals. Well, some of them may be somewhat conservative in their private lives, but every current board member governs like a liberal. Their votes are indistinguishable from those that one might see in Madison or Milwaukee. Last night was an example.

The district administration has been gathering input and building a new compensation plan for the last year or so. The plan is not done yet, but the the HR Director presented an update on where they were. He plans to present a final plan at the board meeting on March 9th. Some of the details shared by the HR guy are:

  • The entire plan is focus on rewarding “longevity” and “added expertise.” In other words, it is NOT focused on student performance or educational outcomes. Teachers will get paid for managing to not get fired and for going to school themselves.
  • Under the “added expertise” category, the district is evaluating ways that teachers can get”micro-endorsements” or “micro-credentials” to increase their pay. This is a way for teachers to bolster their pay without having to get a whole new degree. The district is evaluating various groups that provide these and will only allow those that the district thinks will benefit kids. They will not measure whether or not it will actually benefit kids.
  • The plan is being intentionally built to be reviewed and revised on an annual basis. That’s a good thing, but the example cited was that they had not raised starter teacher pay in several years because it was too hard. By evaluating the plan annually, they can more easily adjust it to market conditions. That’s good, but I’m willing to bet my house that they will never adjust pay downward if the market conditions warrant it. Everything is geared to increase pay.

The West Bend School District is not going back to the antiquated “step and ladder” compensation model, but this doesn’t look like it will be much better. Teachers will still be rewarded for getting old and going to school without any connection to whether or not they are actually good teachers. Short of being fired for rank incompetence (a difficult and rare occurrence with a unionized workforce), teachers will just continue to earn more even if their performance is something between mediocre and miserable.