Nearly 140 Durham Public Schools teachers will receive bonuses – some worth nearly $7,600 – under a new state law that rewards teachers for how well their students perform.
The merit bonuses, to be paid this month, are earmarked for third-grade teachers and those who teach Advanced Placement (AP) and Career Technical Education (CTE) courses.
The state has set aside $10 million for third-grade teachers – as part of a $14 million, two-year pilot program – who rank in the top 25 percent of the state’s teachers or the top 25 percent of teachers in their own district based on students’ performance on third-grade reading tests and exams.
In Durham, 21 third-grade teachers qualified for both bonuses and will receive a state merit bonus worth $4,034 and a local merit bonus, which is paid by the state, of $3,523 for a total of $7,560 each.
Overall, 27 third-grade teachers earned bonuses because they ranked in the top 25 percent of DPS. Eighteen DPS teachers ranked in the top 25 percent of the state.
Meanwhile, 76 AP teachers qualified for bonuses ranging from $50 to $2,000.
Bonuses for AP and International Baccalaureate teachers are based on how well students perform on AP exams.
A.P. teachers receive $50 for each student who receives a “3” or higher on an AP exam and IB teachers $50 for each student who receives a 4 or higher on an IB for Diploma Programme exam.
Six CTE teachers earned bonuses ranging from $25 to $2,000. Their bonuses are based on the number of students who earn industry certification or credential.
To earn the bonuses, teachers had to be employed by DPS again this year and teaching the same grade this year.
Seven third-grade teachers and three AP and IB teachers received new assignments from principals, so DPS is paying them with local money for the bonuses they would have otherwise earned.
“We took the liberty of knowing that you would want teachers to still be rewarded when they didn’t know this criteria existed,” Aaron Beaulieu, the district’s chief finance officer, told the school board.
While the DPS leadership is grateful for the bonuses, some have expressed concern about the fairness of rewarding some teachers for their good work but not others.
“I am happy that some teachers who have accomplished much are being recognized for it, but this is by no means an equitable bonus,” Superintendent Bert L’Homme said. “All of our teachers and staff, especially those who distinguish themselves in the classroom or workplace, are part of the solution for advancing student achievement and should be recognized as well.”
L’Homme said reading proficiency doesn’t just magically happen in third grade, and those who are responsible for helping a child to succeed in reading should also be rewarded.
“It’s the hard work of pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grade teachers, not to mention specialists and counselors and EC teachers,” L’Homme said.
To me, it’s insulting. The thought that someone is going to work harder because of this is just ridiculous.
Steve Unruhe, school board member and former DPS teacher
School board member Steve Unruhe, a retired teacher, agreed that the merit bonuses are being distributed unfairly.
“I can’t even imagine walking into a school after being singled out to receive funding when my colleague down the hall had done everything I had done with our students,” Unruhe said. “To me, it’s insulting. The thought that someone is going to work harder because of this is just ridiculous.”
Unruhe said he has gone as far to apologize to teachers for having to implement the merit bonus program.
“It’s really as crazy a program as I can remember and we’ve done some really crazy things in this state,” Unruhe said.
School board vice chairwoman Natalie Beyer said the program disregards the fact that education children takes a collaborative effort.
“Our teachers work as a team and no one works in isolation,” Beyer said.
School board member Xavier Cason said he was approached by a teacher who wished DPS could have just accepted state funding for the program – about $256,000 for DPS – and devised a program to reward more teachers.
School board member Minnie Forte-Brown said lawmakers should be ashamed to sign off on a program that could lead to a teacher receiving a bonus of only $25.
“That’s a slap in the face,” she said.