Here's a draft of our Sunday editorial.
In any profession, the goals for merit pay are straightforward.
To reward top performers. To — in the clunky jargon of human resources — incentivize extra effort and initiative. To motivate improved job performance.
So far, teacher merit pay isn’t off to a very good start in Idaho, unless the motivational goals are confusion and skepticism.
The merit pay mess began unraveling early in September, when the state Department of Education suggested the bonuses may hinge on the result of Proposition 2 — a statewide voter referendum to uphold or reject the merit-pay law.
With bonuses due to go out to districts on Nov. 15, nine days after the election, the department said the money may hang in the balance of the election.
That’s where things stood for a couple of weeks, with Idaho Education Association president Penni Cyr accusing state superintendent Tom Luna’s shop of holding the money “hostage.”
Then, along came Secretary of State Ben Ysursa — one of Luna’s political allies, but also the go-to source on all things Idaho elections. As Ysursa explained to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the state’s Board of Canvassers won’t meet to validate the election results until Nov. 21, so he says the merit pay law will be in effect on Nov. 15, no matter how the referendum goes.
Luna isn’t convinced, since the districts have until Dec. 15 to distribute the money to teachers. So he has asked the attorney general’s office for an opinion.
Teachers — not the leaders of the teachers’ union, but the rank-and-file educators who work in the classrooms — have every right to feel jerked around.
And aren’t these the very people that the merit pay plan is supposed to reward and motivate?
Shouldn’t teachers — regardless of their opinions about Luna and his three-pronged Students Come First education overhaul — at least be able to feel like bonuses are a gesture of appreciation for a hard job done well?
These teachers earned this money. Under the merit-pay law — passed by the 2011 Legislature and funded, to the tune of $39 million, by the 2012 Legislature — they have this money coming. But this clumsy rollout is no way to build buy-in at the classroom level.
Luna says the IEA has put the bonuses in limbo by pushing for the referenda. But he and his department deserve a big share of the blame for this confusion.
The merit-pay plan was signed into law on March 17, 2011. By May 2011, opponents had gathered more than enough signatures to challenge the laws on the statewide ballot. This challenge didn't creep up on Luna; as a result, said spokeswoman Melissa McGrath, he was aware of the bonus issue in 2011, and discussed it with districts after the 2012 session. There was ample time to untangle this mess -- before election season.
Even as Luna has publicly — and bitterly — done battle with the IEA over his education laws, the superintendent has taken pains to say his battle is not with the teachers. In a recent statement, Luna said, “I will find any way legally possible to distribute this money to Idaho’s teachers, not just this year but every year.” His 2013-14 budget request includes $61.1 million to expand the merit-pay program.
But that’s next year. In the meantime, an estimated 85 percent of Idaho teachers are in line for bonuses this year, averaging $2,000. Luna has been willing to act boldly before: His Students Come First push was nothing less than a brazen attempt to remake K-12 in a single legislative session.
So why so timid, now, Superinterindent? Be bold again, and be public about it. Commit to awarding these bonuses on Nov. 15. Make someone tell you you can’t.
Put the state’s money where your mouth is. After all, you pushed for it in the first place.