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Merit pay for math, science teachers unlikely in South Kitsap School District

The debate about merit-based pay for math and science teachers continues.

Just don’t expect to hear it in the South Kitsap School District anytime soon.

“Right now it’s not even on the radar,” said SKSD superintendent Dave LaRose, who declined to comment on whether he would support it.

According to a report last week from the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, three school districts in the Puget Sound region — Bellevue, Central Kitsap and Tahoma — pay its high-school math and science teachers up to 8 percent more than other instructors.

Those in favor of merit-based pay claim that it is necessary to provide extra incentives for teachers in those subjects to compete against higher-salaried positions in the private sector. But the Washington Education Association long has balked at merit-based pay, and LaRose said the district likely would not look it at unless it gained support in Olympia.

South Kitsap Education Association president Judy Arbogast finds the concept of merit-based pay unfair in other ways. For example, the success of a sophomore in a biology or geometry class might not be solely related to their current teacher, but, she said, the ones they had in the years leading up to those classes.

“The whole way we’re working is focused on collaboration because more heads get better ideas,” Arbogast said. “The whole idea of merit pay seems to be the opposite of that. It’s very divisive.”

She also said that it might be difficult to create an adequate formula for merit-based pay. Arbogast mentioned that elementary-school instructors also teach math and science, but it raises the question of whether they would they be compensated similar to their peers at the junior highs and high school who focus in those subjects.

Another issue is retention. According to CRPE, 19 of the state’s 30 largest school districts pay math or science teachers less than they spend on teachers in other subjects.

Similar to many states, Washington pays teachers more based on experience and graduate degrees, which has led to uneven salaries.

While SKSD was not mentioned in the report, CRPE found that more than one-third of math and science teachers in Seattle Public Schools had less than five years of experience.

“Finding highly qualified math and science teachers certainly is a challenge,” LaRose said.

But LaRose, who was a social-studies teacher in Arizona, said the same is true for all subjects.

Arbogast, who specializes in special education, agreed. She is concerned there will be a lack of experience as baby boomers, such as herself, begin to retire.

“Your skills grow every year you teach,” she said. “It’s like we’re starting over in a lot of subjects.”

• Letters recently were mailed to parents at Burley Glenwood, Orchard Heights and Sidney Glen Elementary schools that they did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress. Because of that, students at those institutions will be allowed to transfer to another school in the district.

SKSD board president Kathryn Simpson noted that the public should keep the information in context. She bristles at the notion that any of the schools are “failing.”

For example, Burley Glenwood students are evaluated in 37 areas ranging from special education to low income in a variety of subjects based on Measurements of Student Progress, which was instituted during the 2009-10 school year as the state’s official test. Burley Glenwood was cited for its need to improve in special-education math in 2009 and reading this year.

“Burley Glenwood is a great school,” Simpson said. “We are calling it a failing school based on definition. It’s name calling and labeling that’s completely inappropriate.”

Sidney Glen did not meet AYP in special-education math and reading last year, but was cited only for the latter one this time. Orchard Heights also did not meet AYP in special-education math and reading. After not meeting AYP in low-income math and reading and school attendance in 2009, Orchard Heights passed in those subjects this year.

• Ron Ness, who taught science and was an assistant football coach at South Kitsap High School, was hired as an assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way.

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