Chatham County to offer incentive program for teachers

jalexander@newsobserver.comJune 20, 2014 

— Chatham County teachers and teacher assistants will be eligible for bonuses of up to $1,000 a year if student test scores rise, making the district the only one in the state with a systemwide teacher incentive program, county leaders say.

The state had an incentive program that gave teachers bonuses up to $1,500 when a school’s test scores improved, but the program ended in 2009 when the money ran out during the recession.

Chatham County Schools’ program, approved as part of the county budget this week, offers $1,000 bonuses to teachers and $500 to teacher assistants if their school exceeds expected growth in test scores, school board Chairwoman Karen Howard said.

If a school meets expected growth, based on targets the state sets before the school year, then teachers will receive $500 bonuses and teacher assistants, $250 bonuses.

“We’re hoping that teachers thinking about leaving the district will change their minds and stay,” Howard said.

County commissioners said increased county sales tax revenue will pay for the program’s projected $575,000 cost.

State lawmakers have competing plans to raise teacher pay. The House budget proposes average 5 percent raises for teachers, who would not need to give up their tenure to get the increase. The Senate budget included 11 percent raises for teachers who relinquish their tenure.

Both the House and Senate budgets would raise minimum teacher pay to $33,000 a year.

Pioneering effort

Chatham County Schools has 565 teachers who teach in 17 schools serving about 8,200 students.

Howard said she thinks Chatham County is the first school district in the state to have a district-wide, locally funded incentive pay plan.

State Superintendent June Atkinson said Lee County Schools has a similar program but it only rewards the teachers of the school that makes the most growth.

“Our teachers need raises across the board,” Atkinson said. “The ABC program once served our state very well, but it was eliminated during a very difficult time period. (This program) promotes collaboration within the teaching faculty. Teaching requires collaboration. It is not an isolated profession.”

However, she said not all districts can afford programs like Chatham’s.

Sustainability questioned

Mark Jewell, the N.C. Association of Educators vice president, wonders whether Chatham County will be able to sustain its program.

“When you do set growth measures like that, teachers will rise to the occasion,” Jewell said. “When you tie that to dollars, you have to be able to sustain that. The money runs out.”

The county will need to ensure long-term funding to make the program sustainable, he said

“I think it is a win-win for both parties, but I think they have to commit to it.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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