Senate panel OKs change in how teachers are paid in Utah
Many educators object to tying raises to gains made by students.
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Lawmakers advanced a bill Friday morning to dramatically change the way teachers are paid — over the objections of many educators.

The Senate Education Committee passed a substitute version of SB67, which would gradually do away with the current system of teacher raises based on experience and educational attainment. Teachers would instead receive raises based 60 percent on student learning gains and 40 percent on meeting effectiveness standards as measured by principal evaluations, peer evaluations, parent input and/or student input.

The new pay system would be phased in over six years, starting in the 2014-15 school year. The percentage of raises teachers could earn based on the old system would continue to decrease until their raises were based entirely on performance by 2019-20.

The bill also would prohibit teachers who earn low ratings from receiving raises and mandate that teachers who earn the highest ratings get larger raises.

It also would prohibit school districts from assigning teachers or other employees to schools without principals' approval.

"Many of the teachers in Utah have a passion and go way above and beyond what they're compensated for," said bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. "I think the discouraging part, at times, is when we have a teacher who's effective and passionate and we're limited in how we can compensate them."

Committee member Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, characterized the proposal as "intuitive." And Charity Smith, membership director of the American Association of Educators Utah, said it's supported by many teachers in her organization, a non-union, professional association.

Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, said it would create a way to "properly reward our highly effective teachers."

But others, largely teachers with the Utah Education Association (UEA), objected during the hearing. A crowd of mainly teachers filled the small room, many wearing UEA buttons that read "I [heart] teaching" and "Let's work together!"

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh noted that research shows performance pay does nothing to improve student learning.

A recent three-year study on performance pay for teachers, conducted by the National Center of Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, found that a bonus-pay system in metro-Nashville schools had no impact on student achievement. And an evaluation of a pilot performance pay program in Utah, performed by the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah last year, found that paying teachers extra for performance spurred some to change the way they teach, but overall did not boost student scores on state achievement tests more than would otherwise be expected.

"I would venture to say ... if this bill passes, morale would be devastated," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said, urging lawmakers instead to continue to support a separate bill, SB64, which aims to hold teachers and administrators more accountable by tying their pay and continued employment to performance. That bill, among other things, would prohibit teachers who receive low ratings from getting raises and implement performance pay for administrators, but not for teachers.

Connie Sorensen, a teacher at Oakridge Elementary in Salt Lake City, said she worries about basing teacher raises on student learning gains, given that some students have trouble learning and focusing because of problems in their homes over which teachers have no control.

June Miller, Iron Education Association president, said she'd rather see money put toward reducing class sizes or providing additional resources to improve education.

Lawmakers on the committee were divided over the bill, voting 4-3 to advance it to the Senate floor.

"Right now what our teachers want is to be listened to, and I don't feel a sufficient amount of collaboration has happened on this bill," said committee chairman Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he loves the concept of the bill but worried it was too late in the session to propose such a "radical change."

But Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he felt it would be valuable to let the bill be debated by the full Senate alongside SB64.

lschencker@sltrib.com