Aims to Lure Teachers to Low-performing Schools
by Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post, February 22, 2004
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leaders have cajoled, lured with high-money bonuses, and even
forced good teachers into low-performing schools with limited
But a new law, and a tough-talking education chancellor, aim to
get experienced teachers into low-performing classrooms by
reforming their pay so they'll be the ones seeking out jobs in
The law, passed last year, requires a new four-step career
ladder for teachers and prohibits poor and high-minority schools
from having more first-year and out-of-field teachers than a
school district's overall average.
How school officials accomplish that feat is up to them, and the
laws bans them from signing teacher work contracts that don't
include the new rules.
Chancellor Jim Warford, who is in charge of kindergarten through
12th grade, told state board of education members last week he
will do whatever it takes to enforce the law and is ready to
battle teacher unions that may oppose a status quo change.
"I will work toward nothing else than a radical change in how
teachers are paid and awarded for their hard work," Warford
said. "We have told them the bar would be raised on performance
pay, and we now have statutory language to insist it occurs."
Experience hard to find
The language targets high-minority, poor and D- and F-graded
schools, and it means schools like Westward Elementary in West
Palm Beach will have to start looking harder for more
The average years of experience for teachers in Palm Beach
County elementary schools last year was 14. Teachers at
Westward, which has 82 percent of its students taking a free or
reduced-price lunch, had an average seven years of experience.
In fact, just six of the 27 elementary schools targeted this
year as needing extra academic assistance had average teacher
experience levels last year of more than 14 years.
"We always look for an experienced person, whether we get them
or not is another question," said Tammy Ferguson, principal of
Village Academy in Delray Beach, whose teachers have an average
9 1/2 years of experience. "You need to do more mentoring when
you have new teachers. It's all about how much support they
The school district and teachers union in Palm Beach County have
just begun discussing how to enforce the new law come August.
And they're likely to have an uphill battle. During the past two
years, Superintendent Art Johnson has tried to entice
experienced teachers into low-performing schools with a $10,000
bonus. Last year, just 10 teachers accepted the offer. This
year, 11 teachers took the bait.
Four school districts, including Broward County, are already
using the new career ladder outlined in the law as part of a
The ladder has four levels that work in conjunction with the
traditional teacher salary ladder, which usually has 25 steps
and is used to figure out a teacher's base salary.
The new levels include associate, professional, lead and mentor.
Associate and professional teachers receive little to no extra
incentives, while lead and mentor teachers receive bigger
incentives and heavier workloads.
In Broward County, the contract calls for lead teachers to work
an extra half-hour per day, hold two leadership positions in the
school and assume teacher training responsibilities. For their
efforts, they earn an extra $12,500 a year.
Mentor teachers work an extra hour per-day, help other teachers,
develop training seminars and work with low performing students.
They receive an extra $20,000 a year.
Raises not in state budget
To encourage veteran teachers to go to low-performing schools,
Broward has limited the number of lead and mentor teacher jobs
at each school. Veteran teachers at a good school may be tempted
to go to a lower-performing school where there won't be as much
competition for those jobs.
"Our hope and goal is for people to look for jobs at other
sites," said Gary Itzkowitz, field staff representative for the
Broward Teachers Union. "You'll wind up with a situation where
teachers want to be at those schools rather than being forced."
The Florida Education Association, which represents the state's
teachers, is in favor of the new law if it's fully financed by
But Gov. Jeb Bush's budget contains no money for it. Instead,
he's holding bonuses hostage to a guarantee the class-size
amendment be repealed. If the amendment goes away, $250 million
could go to teacher bonuses and the career ladder.
"Our main concern is that the school districts are going to have
to foot the bill," said Mark Pudlow, FEA spokesman. "It's taking
on the sheen of an unfunded mandate."
Pudlow said he's also heard concerns that mentor teachers are
being pulled from classrooms to counsel other teachers, leaving
substitutes with their students. And some teachers feel they are
being pitted against their colleagues in a battle for the top
Warford said teachers need to rethink the way they are paid, and
challenged state lawmakers to come up with even more sweeping
"We've got an 80-year-old pay structure that's not working,"
Warford said. "The legislators should step up and solve this."
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