Organic Matter: Paying teachers what they are worth

I suspect it would be hard to find more than a handful of people who would say that teachers are paid what they are worth.

Arizonans moved to keep good teachers when they approved Proposition 301 one year ago.

It is a half-cent increase in the sales tax that goes into education, mainly for higher teacher pay.

But that was not the end of the story.

Last week, a task force of business and education leaders, appointed by Gov.

Jane Hull, said the best way to improve Arizona schools is to "pay teachers what they're worth" and give raises to those who do their job well.

That task force is putting together a package of recommendations on overhauling Arizona's education salary structure, which utilizes a uniform pay scale based on a combination of a teacher's education and years of service.

It is to be voted on by task force members Dec.

12 and presented to Hull on Dec.

18.

Penny Kotterman, president of the Arizona Education Association, said it would reward teachers who do their jobs well through a statewide standard that considers student progress, achievement, parental satisfaction and professional development.

If Hull accepts the plan, it will be presented to the state Legislature early next year.

Iowa is presently the only state in the nation that does not use the uniform pay scale for teachers.

Passage and proper implementation of the plan would mean starting teacher salaries in Arizona jump from about $30,000 to nearly $40,000.

That would put them more in line with what other professionals with similar education and skills earn.

Unfortunately, the state Legislature also is grappling with a $1.6 billion budget deficit.

One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to realize the cost of the proposed program will be hefty.

Linda Seifers, president of the Kingman Education Association that counts 152 members, was among six local educators to recently attend an AEA regional meeting in Lake Havasu City.

The ideas put forth by the task force were discussed.

"I think it's a good proposal, but it needs some fine-tuning as far as performance based pay criteria," Seifers said.

"However, I believe in these economic times the state Legislature is not going to be able to bring it to a vote.

"My first concern is, why put it to the legislature now? What sort of chance does it have?"

Seifers said the proposal looks more toward the future and where teacher pay is headed.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Ruth Solomon, D-Tucson, made a nearly identical comment to the Associated Press.

Paying teachers what they're worth is a euphuism, Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Mike Ford said.

But Ford said he is encouraged that the task force is looking at bringing up teacher salaries to comparable levels with other professions.

"I don't think the proposal has a chance," Ford said.

"I would like to think we will put education first and do what we can to get a professional cadre of teachers and keep them here.

"This is a kind of turnaround from the what has been talked about in the past.

For years, education has not been considered important, so funding is cut and now we're doing all we can to keep staff, pay teachers what they're worth and follow the mandates of the public."

Betty Rowe, director of the Kingman Academy of Learning, said she has long felt teachers are underpaid, but that the plan under consideration now is "full of problematic things."

"All factors go back to student progress," Rowe said.

"All students should make progress from year to year.

But when you tie that specifically to salary you run into problems of those teaching children making slower progress.

It would pit one teacher against another."

"Basing it on achievement is another thing that's difficult to measure, especially in young children that are at different developmental levels.

Almost all are achieving, but how do you say which ones are achieving the most?"

Unless drastic funding cuts are made in other programs by the Legislature, I'm afraid this proposal doesn't have a snowball's chance in you-know-where of being enacted in the near future.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.