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Teacher merit pay planned for fall at Mequon-Thiensville School District

District to fund system with health insurance cuts

Jan. 7, 2014

Mequon — A teacher merit pay system is in the works for implementation in the fall, according to a preliminary 2014-15 School Board budget presentation Monday.

Following a two-year districtwide salary freeze, district administrators intend to include a 2 percent — roughly correlated to inflation — wage increase into the 2014-15 budget. Additionally, by increasing premiums, co-pays and other employee costs of the district health insurance plan, officials plan to free up about $400,000 in the budget to distribute to employees on a merit-based system.

According to Superintendent Demond Means, that system would be geared less toward "inputs" — that is, credentials, degrees and other qualifications — and more toward "outputs," which he described as performance-based measures which contribute to the district's mission and align with its strategic plan.

"We think there's a chance to do something different and innovative," Means said.

In the broader budget picture, a roughly $700,000 projected deficit for the 2014-15 school year has administrators looking to its list of 40 potential budget cuts, as well as some staffing reductions, to both balance the budget and include some initiatives from the district strategic plan.

The working meeting Monday was the School Board's second look at the 2014-15 preliminary budget. The board will again review the budget in February before voting in March on a preliminary version, which will be further refined before the district's annual meeting in July.

Merit system

The fall 2014 implementation of merit pay falls in line with the state's plans, which were set in motion with the 2011 passage of Gov. Scott Walker's contentious budget repair bill, known as Act 10, and the state Department of Public Instruction's subsequent development of an "educator effectiveness" model to rate teachers. Select districts, including nearby Nicolet and Fox Point-Bayside, piloted the model in the 2012-13 school year. All Wisconsin districts are testing the model in the current school year.

Some Wisconsin districts have opted to tie the DPI educator effectiveness models to their pay scales. While Mequon-Thiensville will use a DPI educator effectiveness model for staff evaluations, administrators are creating a separate system to tie the coming merit pay system to district goals and the board-approved strategic plan, spokeswoman Melissa McCrady said. Such a system would measure specific "outputs" of each employee and reward those who produce.

"We're looking at outputs," McCrady said, "but how we're looking to do that is still under way right now."

Merit pay is among what Walker dubbed the Act 10 "tools" that give school boards and administrators power to trim budgets and alter education.

"We've used the tools to move in a strategic direction to move toward a goal," Means said. "For our staff, and maybe community members who don't know, we're doing groundbreaking work in a post Act 10 world."

Starting with less

A projected decrease of 48 students in the 2014-15 school year, paired with a decrease in state aid due to the district's three-year rolling enrollment average, means Mequon-Thiensville will have an estimated $170,000 decrease in its state-mandated revenue limit in the coming school year, Finance Director Gail Grieger said.

The decrease in revenue contributes to the estimated $700,000 deficit which the district plans to balance with 4.6 employees worth of staff reductions at Homestead, four special education staff reductions, and several items from the list of 40 potential cuts the administration and School Board put together in 2012.

As he has in past budget deliberations, board member Gary Laev said the district should come up with a way to trim costs each year to match revenue. His question will be a subject of conversation at the coming February meeting and again at the board's retreat in May.

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