Friday, July 15, 2011

Darlington adopts fair-minded incentive rewards plan

This is one of the more fair-minded ways of administering "pay-for-test-scores" that has come around recently. It doesn't pit teacher against teacher as a lot of "merit pay" proposals do. And it recognizes that everyone in a school community contributes to children's education, so education support staff and others are eligible for the bonuses.

The Darlington County Board of Education approved a set of guidelines for awarding around $1.33 million in incentives among some 1,400-plus Darlington County School District employees as a reward for the district’s improvement on the 2010 state school report cards.

The money for the incentive rewards is coming from one-time funds that are coming from the state.

The incentive rewards are not limited to just teachers but include support staff as well.

School district employees are getting no raises in the new $63.4 million general fund budget that went into effect on July 1. Teachers are also not getting their annual step increase in pay based on years of experience this year. This is the second straight year the step increase has been eliminated.

But Superintendent of Education Dr. Rainey Knight said she wanted to find some way for the district to reward employees for their efforts in bringing about the improved report card ratings.

Higher test scores on the state’s PASS (Palmetto Assessment of State Standards) and improving the district’s high school graduation rate to the fifth highest in the state among all 86 S.C. public school districts helped make Darlington County the 12th highest performing school district in South Carolina and the highest performer in the Pee Dee region on the 2010 report cards. The previous year, the district ranked 46th in the state in school report card performance.

This, to me, is a sore spot. It is impossible to measure a child's learning based upon a standardized test score. If we really understand and believe that children learn differently and show different competencies -- and if we understand that taking standardized tests is, in fact, a competency -- then we should also allow for and use multiple measures in determining student achievement.

Still, Darlington has done something rational and good for its educators, and that's the point to be commended:

“We just wanted to find a way to say thank you to these employees for all their hard work,” Knight said.

The board approved the guidelines during its regular monthly meeting Monday. The guidelines spell out eligibility for the rewards.

For full-time employees, the guidelines are as follows:

- Full-time employees making the minimum Darlington County School District teacher salary ($31,826) in 2010-2011 will be eligible for a one-time $1,000 incentive.

- Full-time employees making less than the minimum teacher salary will receive a one-time $500 incentive.

- Only personnel employed with the district in 2010-2011 are eligible.

- A full-time employee must have worked at least 30 hours a week in order to be eligible for the incentive.

- Full-time employees must have worked a minimum of 152 days as a full-time employee during 2010-2011 to be eligible for the incentive.

- Any employee who was terminated by the district in 2010-2011 is ineligible for the incentive.

For part-time employees and substitutes, the guidelines are as follows:

- Only part-time employees or substitutes who worked in the district in 2010-2011 are eligible for the one-time incentive.

- Any part-time employee or substitute who was terminated by the district in 2010-2011 is ineligible for the incentive.

- Part-time employees (working less than 30 hours a week) who worked a minimum of 152 days as a part-time employee will be eligible for a one-time incentive of $250.

- Substitutes in the areas of custodial, food service, maintenance, teacher assistant or teacher who worked a minimum of 152 days will be eligible for a one-time incentive of $250.

Knight said district officials will send letters to employees explaining the incentives and the guidelines. State and federal taxes will be withheld from the incentive payments, but retirement will not, Knight said.

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