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Denver Teachers May OK Pay Plan

September 10, 1999

DENVER (AP) _ Schoolteachers here may be ready to turn the tables on critics of public schools by agreeing to link pay to how much their individual classes learn.

Their union has negotiated a contract with the school district that would include a two-year pilot program in which a test group’s raises would be linked to the performance of students in individual classrooms.

If teachers approve the contract today, they would vote in two years on whether to make the test program permanent and gamble previously guaranteed annual raises on meeting their goals.

``Nothing like this has ever been done before,″ said Andrea Giunta, president of the local teachers’ union. But she believes, when ``members hear the details, their fears will be settled.″

The Denver plan would reward a teacher based solely on the performance of his or her individual classes, unlike other programs that link raises to improved overall performance of schools.

Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union with 2.4 million members, said other types of performance pay have been tried around the country and most have failed.

She said recent experiments included Arizona, where teachers got a $500 bonus when student test scores improved statewide, and Ohio, which set up a gain-sharing program, giving teachers a bonus if they met the goals set by each school.

``This program is truly different. It’s not a bonus. It changes where you are in the salary schedule, based on student achievement,″ she said.

``We’ll be looking at the numbers. The whole idea is to improve student performance. That’s why we are in this business _ not to make kids fail, but to make them learn.″

Three years after court-ordered busing ending, Denver schools are reporting higher test scores among white students. But minority scores lag behind and the district is under pressure from the federal government to reduce the gap between whites and minorities.

``We’re going to have to change the culture and do some pretty dramatic things,″ said school board member Elaine Berman.

The Denver contract proposal also includes a provision for teachers to become involved in policy-making on academic matters.

The performance pay test program would involve only 450 of the district’s 4,300 teachers. They would be selected from 12 elementary schools and three middle schools.

Teachers who agree to participate would get $500 to sign up, and an additional $1,000 for accomplishing two goals set in discussions with their principal.

The participation bonuses wouldn’t be part of a permanent program that includes all teachers.

Under the pending contract, starting teachers would make $30,000 and senior staff with doctorates would receive $60,362.

``I think it’s a good idea,″ said teacher Gary Apel. ``I’m comfortable enough with my teaching ability it doesn’t intimidate me.″

Others are skeptical.

``Teachers on the whole don’t like change. Nobody does. Teachers are very proud of what they do and feel they’re doing a wonderful job and they get no respect,″ said teacher Melody Duggan.

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