Merit raises for Fulton teachers in 2015?

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FULTON COUNTY – Teachers in the Fulton County School System (FCSS) may be among the first in the state to be paid based on performance in the classroom and not solely on years worked and degrees earned.

The system is in the midst of an ambitious 5-year strategic plan to improve student performance and having the best teachers in place is the only way to achieve the goals, school officials say.

“As part of our [ongoing} initiatives, we are working on ways to provide opportunities for our best teachers , our most effective teachers, who impact what happens in our classrooms every day,” said Kenneth Zeff, FCSS chief of Innovation and Strategy.

For the past year, a group of 125 staff members, including teachers from every school in the system, along with principals and administrators has been looking at a performance-based compensation model. The change is a big one, and goes against a centuries-old model that has long existed in schools across the country.

“There is a common understanding that [teachers] are compensated regardless of their performance, contributions, skills or knowledge,” said Zeff. “Teacher performance is not included in the calculation of pay, but rather by the number of years they are in the profession and the [degrees they earn].”

Fulton’s conversion to a charter system three years ago has allowed it to revamp teacher compensation; an option not possible in non-charter systems. The Fulton plan could serve as a model for compensation reform statewide, said Zeff.

The Georgia Department of Education is “highly” interested in Fulton’s plans, Zeff said.

Compensation is the final piece of the overall plan to attract and retain the top teachers. FCSS has already revamped its teacher hiring process, and is participating in the state-mandated Teacher Keys to Effectiveness System (TKES) to evaluate teacher performance.

“Compensation is the end of the conversation,” said Zeff. “We must get teaching hiring, support and evaluation all sequenced and flowing, and only then can you talk about compensation strategies appropriately.”

Zeff is looking at implementing the compensation reforms in multiple phases beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.

The increases would range from nothing for teachers deemed “ineffective” based on evaluations, to a 4.5 percent increase for those considered “exemplary.”

Teachers in the “needs development” range could see a 1.5 percent increase and those evaluated as “proficient” would see a 3 percent increase.

Current compensation for teachers in Fulton County begins at $40,308 annually for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree, to $86,196 for a teacher with more than 25 years experience and a doctorate degree.

The categories for teachers will be determined based on the state’s Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) which is tied to the TKES program all schools are participating in.

Zeff recognizes the work that lies ahead as the structure of pay makes a monumental change. But he noted the working group composed primarily of teachers is essentially establishing the boundaries.

“My hope is the system we design will be linked to how good am I at my job as opposed to how many years I’ve been here or how I’ve jumped through the hoops,” said teacher Daniel Waldroup who is part of the compensation committee.

Waldroup acknowledged the system may be controversial at the beginning, but hope teachers will give it a chance to work.

“First and foremost we want the best and brightest, most committed, most motivated and passionate educators to be part of our team. And we want them to feel they have a path forward in Fulton County Schools,” said Zeff.

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