Our Views: Janesville teachers deserve bonuses for good grades

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

A reasonable case can be made for giving teachers bonuses in light of the state’s recently released report cards that show the Janesville School District getting high marks.

Janesville’s score of 74.8 put it in the “exceeds expectations” category. It was highest among the state’s 10 largest districts and also best among all districts in Rock County.

Still, Janesville School Board members Bill Sodemann and Scott Feldt are right to question why administrators should share the money.

Superintendent Karen Schulte wants to spread $600,000 among all employees because the board for years has been discussing rewards for superior performance as part of its Journey to Excellence program. That seems reasonable, except that administrators qualify for incentive pay in a separate program. Last spring, the board enacted the plan to give administrators a 1.5 percent raise this year and let them earn incentive pay, based on performance, of up to 4.5 percent.

Schulte notes that her reward proposal is based in part on tests students took last fall, while administrative incentives are based on this year’s performance. OK, so the administrator incentive plan doesn’t jibe with the glowing report card. We realize, too, that administrators went without pay increases in recent years and were tapped for benefit contributions earlier than teachers. Yet administrators enjoy incentive potential that teachers do not.

Yes, administrators played a vital role in enacting changes that helped the district report card look good. Yet it’s teachers who work directly with students each day.

Some critics argue the report card indicates teachers are simply doing the job they’re paid to do. You could argue that the report card includes not only test scores but factors such as attendance that teachers can’t be directly accountable for, but to reason that teachers don’t deserve bonuses because they’re just doing their jobs is callous and shallow.

Even though private-sector raises have been miniscule or nonexistent during these difficult times since the Great Recession, many companies still reward employees with bonuses for exceptional work.

Besides, the school district’s ability to dole out $600,000 comes largely out of savings from changes in the health care plan and the fact that teachers now contribute toward their pensions, as required by state law. So teachers have taken financial hits this school year, while their union and the district are at a contract impasse over even a modest pay increase and the two sides await word from a state mediator.

Bonuses for teachers would show the community’s appreciation for the job they’re doing under difficult circumstances. These circumstances include uncertainties over pay, benefits and working conditions. Administrators also are asking teachers to change how they work. The bonuses would boost teacher morale, and these dedicated educators deserve them.

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