Where’s The Money?

Few would argue that teachers should be recognized for the work they do, but area school leaders say incentivizing teachers with performance-based bonus pay may not be the best way to do that.

In his Jan. 8 State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said teachers who are ranked “highly effective” under the state’s new Annual Professional Performance Review program would be eligible to receive $20,000 in bonus pay. While this notion sounds good in theory, school administrators can’t help but wonder where the bonus money would be coming from.

“My guess is that this is a hope or wish of the governor’s because I’m not exactly sure how that would be funded,” said Kaine Kelly, superintendent of Sherman Central School. “I think 85 percent (of teachers) are rated highly effective so, if you’re going to give each of them a $20,000 bonus, that’s a lot of money. I’m all for highly effective teachers getting bonus pay, provided it’s coming from New York state and not Sherman’s budget.”

Danielle O’Connor, superintendent of Frewsburg Central School, said the logic of promising bonus pay to teachers while her district is still struggling with a $1.2 million gap elimination adjustment is less than sound.

“We would certainly be able to strengthen our district and our performance if we had that $1.2 million, as opposed to giving it to individual teachers,” she said. “So, while it’s nice to reward teachers for hard work, I would like to know where the money is coming from.”

Several times throughout his address, Cuomo reinforced his belief in linking a school’s state aid to its academic performance. Chris Reilly – president of the Jamestown Teachers Association – couldn’t disagree more, saying the incentives are bad in both theory and practice for those actually involved in education.

“It’s only good in theory to those who haven’t been responsible for children in a classroom,” Reilly said. “There is no research to support that merit pay systems promote better teaching, or that they adequately identify good teachers. Teachers can’t be measured in the same ways the private sector is, just as the private sector shouldn’t be measured the same way teachers are measured. There are way too many variables in today’s society that impact student growth and student success. We aren’t selling hamburgers or refrigerators; our bottom line cannot be measured by test scores.”

A common concern from superintendents is the lack of an equitable distribution of state aid to small, rural schools in the face of an increasing number of state mandates.

“It’s tough to envision something like (the APPR teacher incentives) when the governor is still looking at giving schools the same aid they received in 2008-09,” said Stephen Penhollow, Falconer Central School superintendent. “I don’t know whether this is fair or unfair to teachers, but I do know that, as it stands, districts can’t afford to pay for these programs without funding.

“I’m not saying that teachers don’t deserve a fair and equitable salary, but is that the priority for schools?” he added. “We’re just trying to keep our teachers employed.”

Kelly shared a similar view: “If (Cuomo) has the money to incentivize a teacher program, I would rather he take that money and distribute it equitably.”