Merit pay system debated at school board candidate forum

Friday, March 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:38 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 24, 2010

COLUMBIA – School Board candidates offered varying responses on the possible implementation of a merit pay system in Columbia Public Schools at a Columbia Missouri National Education Association forum Thursday night.

Candidates were each allowed a one-minute opening statement followed by four questions from the National Education Association, two questions from the floor, and a one-minute closing statement.

When asked for their opinion of tying professional compensation and rewards to student achievement, including test performance, the candidates responded:

Jonathan Sessions:

  • It looks good on paper, but until he sees an instance where it works in a public school setting and teachers approve of it, he would hold off.

Phil Peters:

  • Like every other situation, he would like to look at the evidence first. It would have to improve student performance and be fair.

Jan Mees:

  • She is not in favor of merit pay because there are too many variables involved in the model. There needs to be adequate pay for teachers. Mees voted to table merit pay implementation as part of the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan at a board meeting in January. 

Dan Holt:

  • He has yet to be in a situation where performance pay is a bad thing. He would like to see it introduced into Columbia Public Schools as a collaborative effort with rules set by teachers.

James Whitt:

  • He believes the federal merit pay initiative is directed toward school districts that are failing, and Columbia Public Schools is not among them. He supports the traditional approach to improving the teachers' salary schedule.

Other topics included: religion in the classroom; the value of career and technological education; how the board would handle the bond issue if passed; and allowing teachers to choose a collective bargaining, or union, representative.

All candidates agreed the bond issue is much needed and would be handled responsibly. They also agreed that teachers, not the board, should choose whether or not they want a representative. A few candidates said they had no problem working with a future representative and others expressed a desire for more information on the subject.

The School Board candidates will appear on the April 6 ballot.

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