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Marietta schools eye merit pay plan

Teachers in Marietta City Schools could be earning their paychecks based on student achievement and performance, not the years of experience or the number of degrees they have.

The plan, starting in the 2015-16 school year, would make Marietta one of two school districts in the state to take up the new model.

The Marietta City School Board, during its work session today, will learn details of the plan for the first time. The board approved last August a $90,000 contract, funded by federal Race to the Top grant money, with Education Resource Strategies, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, to analyze how the district is using its money.

Marietta City Schools, along with Fulton County Schools, are the only two districts in Georgia that received this grant money for the redesigned compensation plan and will be the first to implement the new salary structure.

Right now, educators are paid based on the years they have taught and the number of degrees and certifications they hold. A specific salary schedule is outlined annually for each of these categories.

According to the 2013-14 schedule, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $38,500; master’s degree, $43,150; specialist, $48,300; and doctorate, $53,300.

After the second year of teaching, salaries increase from the base figure between $600 and $2,200 each year depending on the degree. The most an educator can be paid is $87,549, and that is for a teacher who has a doctorate degree and has worked for the system for 30 years.

But the new method of calculating a teacher’s salary would also take into account student achievement and performance on tests, and include data from the state’s newly developed and more in-depth teacher and leader evaluation programs, which are set to be implemented next school year.

“Compensation redesign is something that’s very long overdue in our profession,” said Marietta Superintendent Emily Lembeck. “The structure has become outdated, I believe, especially in light of the revenue streams for public education, whether it’s state or federal.”

Using money the school system already receives, the Massachusetts nonprofit has restructured how all teachers, administrators and central office personnel will be paid.

“We know that the most critical aspect is having a highly effective teacher in a classroom, therefore getting back to the concept of finding a compensation structure that will reward and recognize, attract and retain and leverage the talents of the best teachers that Marietta can provide for students is important,” Lembeck said.

Implementation of the redesign will be done in two phases that could take up to three years, or by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

“Right now we have a framework of what a compensation structure could be for Marietta City Schools,” she said. “If the board is comfortable with it or has suggestions, the first thing I would ask for is that we be allowed to share it (with Marietta teachers).”

Lembeck said she wants to make sure everyone impacted by the change understands all aspects of the new structure before they launch it.

“We have worked very, very hard with ERS (Education Resource Strategies) over a significant period of time and I feel comfortable in bringing this forward to the board on Friday,” she said.

School board members support concept

A majority of the school board members said Thursday they support the district restructuring how it pays teachers and that they are looking forward to ERS’s presentation.

“Compensation redesign can be a way to reward exceptional teachers while leveraging their talent and experience to improve instruction,” board member Irene Berens said in an email. “As always with a new concept, details and evaluations will be important.”

Like Lembeck, board member Stuart Fleming said this change is long overdue.

“I’m a tremendous supporter of variable compensation based on performance,” he said in an email. “Great teachers and high achievers know there is much to gain for our students with this modern approach that the business community has used for generations.”

Board Chair Randy Weiner and member Jill Mutimer, who are both seeking their third terms on the board in November, said this has been a change they’ve been talking about for years.

Weiner said the conversation started in 2008.

“It’s to provide a balanced and sustainable compensation structure to attract, retain and leverage the highly effective teaching force leading to greater student achievement,” he said.

Mutimer said a redesign has been on her radar since she was first elected to the board in 2005 and that she’s interested in finding out how ERS will be laying out the plan.

“We wanted to make sure we were looking at the right way to do it,” she said. “It’s a complicated subject and it’s taken some time to develop.”

The newest board member, Brett Bittner, declined to say whether he supported the redesign because he’d like to see the full presentation first.

Board member Tony Fasola agrees.

“Subject to an equitable and fair plan, I would generally be in favor of a system of this type,” he said in an email. “But of course, as they say, the devil is in the details and I will be interested to see those details.”

The Friday meeting, which includes a training session for board members, is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. and according to the board schedule, the compensation redesign presentation should start at 2:10 p.m.

A copy of the agenda can be found online at marietta-city.org.

View the online version of the story here.

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