Bonus plan angers teachers

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COEUR d'ALENE - Teachers in the Coeur d'Alene School District found out Tuesday just how much, or how little, they will be receiving as bonuses under the state's pay-for-performance plan, and many of them aren't happy about it.

A group of teachers at Lake City High School say they're particularly upset because they're receiving bonuses and they know teachers at one district school, Borah Elementary, won't be receiving any extra cash this year.

"It actually makes me physically ill," said Lake City teacher Amy Bellamy. "Everybody is carrying this huge burden around. It's just so wrong."

The teachers are considering ways they can pool some of their own bonus money to ensure the Borah teachers know they're appreciated by their peers.

Under the pay-for-performance plan, teachers at some schools will receive a full share of the bonus amount and others will receive a partial share. The shares are determined based on students' results on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

Individual districts were given the option of adding their own additional criteria. In Coeur d'Alene last year, the school board decided to use the state ISAT guideline alone. That decision was based on a recommendation from a committee of teachers, principals and Coeur d'Alene Education Association leadership.

If a teacher in the Coeur d'Alene School District receives the full amount, according to the preliminary numbers, that teacher will receive slightly more than $4,000.

Sandy Midgley, a teacher in her 13th year at LCHS, said teachers at her school learned they will receive half a share.

Midgley said she called all the schools in the district to find out how much of a share each teacher will receive.

Midgley said she was told teachers at several schools are slated to receive full shares: Coeur d'Alene High, Canfield Middle and Skyway, Dalton, Sorensen, Ramsey and Winton elementary schools.

Teachers at Woodland and Lakes middle schools are slated to receive a quarter-share, Midgley said, and Borah teachers will receive nothing.

Midgley does not know how much teachers at Bryan, Atlas or Hayden Meadows elementary schools will receive. She never received calls back from those schools.

Based on her information, Midgley said it appears the teachers at schools in lower socio-economic neighborhoods are getting lower bonus amounts.

"Those teachers are dealing with issues that affect student success on the ISAT," Midgley said. "There are more at-risk kids, transient populations, fewer stay-at-home parents working one-on-one with these kids."

She said the argument that not receiving bonuses will motivate teachers to work harder is "absurd."

"Those (Borah) teachers are hopeless, frustrated, sad, unappreciated, and they don't have any immediate control over what those students do on an ISAT," Midgley said. "They work so hard with these little ones."

In high school, the ISAT is given to sophomores only, and Midgley said that as a senior government teacher, she's receiving a bonus when her teaching hasn't directly affected the students' test results.

Lake City teacher Andrea Partington said students in lower socio-economic areas often need to be taught skills that go beyond the ISAT, and for some of them, school is their most stable environment.

"These teachers nurture and care for these children, and by its very nature, this clientele is not going to be high-achieving," Partington said.

Coeur d'Alene school officials confirmed that building principals met with their teachers after school Tuesday and told the teachers whether they would be receiving any extra cash.

School district spokeswoman Laura Rumpler and Rosie Astorquia, the district's director of secondary education, told The Press the district would not release the information to the public at this time, because the state department of education requested that they wait until Nov. 9, the date all districts should have their final calculations completed.

The Press is making a public records request for this information.

Rumpler said, although the numbers are preliminary, they wanted the teachers to hear them first, in person, from their own administrators, to allow the teachers time to process the information, before it is made public.

School districts are expected to receive the bonus money by Nov. 15, and distribute it by Dec. 15.

The pay-for-performance plan is one of three education referendums voters are being asked to consider repealing on the Nov. 6 ballot. A winning "no" vote on Proposition 2 would repeal the merit pay program effective Nov. 21.

Idaho schools chief Tom Luna, one of the creators of the education reform package that includes the pay-for-performance plan, sent out an email Thursday to schools and media advising that it's uncertain if teachers will receive the bonuses.

"The question is whether or not districts would then have legal authority to distribute this funding to teachers after November 21," Luna wrote. "The State Department of Education has been working with the Attorney General's office on this issue for several months. The answer to this question remains uncertain as of today; however, we have asked the Attorney General's office for further guidance and will forward their official opinion on the matter to you as soon as we receive it."

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