Dougco parent Laura Mutton questions how the Douglas County School District plans to pay for a new pay-for-performance system for teachers since a tax measure failed in 2011. 

Pay-for-performance, one of Douglas County’s reform initiatives, has created great confusion and concern due to the lack financial transparency and employee support, leaving many within the community asking questions and voicing their frustration with the Board of Education and senior administration.

Pay-for-performance is not new to the Douglas County School District. First implemented in 1993 and supported by 90 percent of employees, Douglas County was one of the first school districts in the nation to implement a pay-for- performance compensation system. The district received national recognition for its pay-for-performance system, which rewarded teachers for individual and/or collaborative achievements. Unfortunately, the program was suspended many years ago when Douglas County, like other local school districts, was required to cut budgets in response to the massive state cuts to education funding.

The current school board, elected in 2009, stated as part of its reform agenda they would implement a new pay-for performance system, with the goal of retaining and attracting high quality employees. In 2011, Douglas County voters voted against a bond and mill levy that was needed to fund pay-for-performance. The district made it clear that pay-for -performance would see a “significant setback to the technology infrastructure needed to appropriately measure the performance of staff”* without this additional funding. It causes great confusion in the community to have heard this statement, suffer major funding cuts to the high schools and then see a new pay-for-performance plan under development less than a year later.

What cuts are coming?

The district needs to be transparent and share with the public the infrastructure and ongoing costs of the new system, including the programs and services that have been or will need to be reduced in order to divert funds to pay for this system. With the lowest per pupil funding in the metro area and average class sizes well above neighboring districts, it is important that parents understand what cuts the district is making to fund the pay-for-performance infrastructure.

It is also unclear how the district can afford to offer the significant teacher raises outlined in the plan without raising any additional funds. Douglas County has historically paid teachers less than teachers in neighboring districts, attracting them to the district with its positive climate and culture. Given there is a limited pot of funds, it is important to understand if some teachers will earn significantly less in order for others to earn more. Or will the number of teachers be reduced overall, thereby increasing class sizes? Perhaps programming for students will be cut or central administration will be greatly reduced?

Finally, where does pay-for-performance fit into other spending priorities that have been voiced by parents, such as increasing classroom support and reducing student fees?

Colorado Senate Bill 10-191 requires that teachers undergo evaluations. Tying teacher compensation to those evaluations is a complex and costly endeavor – one that prompted DCSD to put a bond on the ballot in 2011 to pay for the system’s infrastructure and a mill levy to pay for teacher’s compensation.

Both measures were denied by voters.

District “customers” need facts

The Board of Education often states that its members serve the district parents, which they refer to as “customers.”  Yet parents aren’t being informed if pay-for-performance is being funded with cuts to the classroom and prioritized over other desirable programs. The community would like the opportunity to engage in open discussion and learn more about the pay-for-performance system. Unfortunately, the Board of Education has cancelled all community engagement meetings in the current school year and Telephone Town Hall meetings have demonstrated that questions are often not answered or are misunderstood by the administration.

Without first addressing plummeting employee morale, declining parent satisfaction and the growing fund balance, the Board of Education and the senior administration will have difficulty restoring trust in the district. Without trust and without full transparency regarding the infrastructure and ongoing costs of pay-for-performance, the district is unlikely to achieve its goal of retaining and attracting high quality employees and improving student achievement.