Merit pay worth talking about for SK teachers

That the head of the teachers union for the local school district pans the idea of merit pay is hardly surprising.

She is, after all, in the same line of work as longtime American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, who once famously bristled, “When school children start paying union dues, I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

Thus when South Kitsap Education Association president Judy Arbogast last week expressed her disdain for the radical notion of paying teachers who achieve exceptional results or specialize in difficult subjects like math and science more money than those who don’t, she was simply parroting the union line.

In labor-speak, Arbogast’s characterization of merit pay as “divisive” is simply a euphemism for, “My job is to make sure SK teachers do as little work for as much money as possible. Whether the students get anything out of the deal is irrelevant.”

Unlike the predictable reaction of the teachers union rep, however, we were a little surprised by the comments of SKSD Superintendent Dave LaRose, who declined to offer his opinion on the question of merit pay yet nonetheless stated with certainty that it’s “not even on the radar” here.

If not, why not?

For the record, at least three school districts in Washington — including Central Kitsap — currently employ some variation on a formula that can pay high school math and science teachers up to 8 percent more than other instructors.

Isn’t something like that at least worth considering here?

And if so, who better to start the conversation than the superintendent?

It’s understandable that LaRose, as the face of the district, would be reluctant to weigh in on the subject before any concrete proposal had been offered. But at a time when time-tested approaches in education are sorely needed, we’d hate to see his caution construed as outright dismissal of a concept that seems to work pretty darned well in the private sector.

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