District 51 eyes overhaul of teacher salaries

A new compensation system is being pondered for District 51 employees.

After years of discussing the possibility, the district’s work exploring the possibility of a strategic compensation system officially began Wednesday with the first meeting of an 18-member strategic compensation committee.

The committee is responsible for considering research on strategic compensation in other districts, discussing how compensation could change here, and whether it’s a good idea. How the system would award compensation — possibly by basing pay on educator effectiveness evaluations, student growth or achievement data, experience, market demand or another measure — is yet to be determined.

The committee has members from various district departments, plus school board members Tom Parrish and John Williams. Board members Greg Mikolai and Ann Tisue attended Wednesday’s inaugural meeting as well.

Committee meetings will be facilitated by Battelle for Kids, an Ohio-based nonprofit that specializes in school human resource issues. The district will pay the company approximately $50,000 for its services, according to district spokeswoman Christy McGee.

Battelle for Kids has worked with numerous school districts to explore variant compensation, particularly in the eight states where legislators have mandated that districts explore alternative compensation. Mikolai said the district decided to seek outside help due to the intricate nature of building a strategic compensation system.

“We realized we don’t have the expertise to do this (alone) and would probably struggle for years and years and never come up with anything viable,” Mikolai said.

The committee has not decided when it will stop meeting and has not set a deadline for making a decision on the idea of strategic compensation. The committee has scheduled meetings so far for April 8, 23 and 30.

Moving to a strategic compensation system from the current pay scale is a goal in the district’s long-term plan. Tisue said she hopes an alternative salary model would encourage staff to swap ideas and work on a common goal of improving student achievement.

“One of the biggest factors for student success is effective teachers. When you have an effective teacher, let’s compensate them by giving them something different in pay,” Tisue said.

Parrish said he hopes strategic compensation would help the district recruit and retain teachers in subjects and schools where it can be hard to find and keep qualified people. If it’s done, though, he wants it done right.

“The one thing we talk about with this is, can we design a fair process for all employee groups, will it be manageable, and will we have resources to make sure it sustains itself over time?” Parrish said.

Changing the way the district pays employees is not a given. But with more states and districts creating their own strategic compensation models, Parrish said it seems inevitable Colorado legislators will at least consider moving that direction. Jefferson County, Douglas County and Harrison school districts, for example, have already introduced strategic compensation plans.

If District 51 adopts an alternative pay model, Parrish said he hopes the district can be a model for other districts around the state.


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