N.D. teacher pay initative discussed

BISMARCK — North Dakota is looking to get creative when it comes to paying teachers.

The North Dakota Commission on Education Improvement discussed an alternative teacher compensation system at its Tuesday meeting.

It’s apparent both nationally and in North Dakota that the traditional means of compensating teachers is under increasing stress, said Greg Burns, a commission member and executive director of the North Dakota Education Association.

“The traditional salary schedule is very good at enumerating how long a teacher has been teaching and how many credits a teacher has accrued. Beyond that, it doesn’t tell us much,” he said. “It brings no idea of what it is that people are actually doing when they enter a classroom.”

Nationally, most teachers favor a different compensation system as long as it contains multiple measures, he said.

Burns outlined a proposal that would ask the Legislature to set aside $7.5 million for school districts interested in creating an alternative teacher compensation system.

The system would be negotiated between representatives of the school district and the authorized exclusive representative. Failure to agree on a system would disqualify a district from applying for funding.

An alternative pay system would need to be based on multiple factors, such as (but not limited to) pay for hard-to-staff positions, added knowledge or skills/professional development, student educational growth or added responsibilities like mentoring, coaching or instructional leadership.

Successful applicants for funding should also describe what role evaluations will play in the compensation system and how professional development will be included.

Funding could be for an entire district or individual buildings. However, all teachers in a building or district receiving funding must be eligible for extra pay.

No teacher would suffer a pay reduction as a result of the compensation system funding.

After districts successfully negotiated an alternative teacher compensation system, the agreement would be sent to a state review panel, which would approve or deny funding applications. The panel would oversee the program so money is spent how it’s intended, Burns said.

There are 100 ways of compensating teachers, so there isn’t one right answer, he said. However, the key to coming up with a successful district plan is collaboration among a large group of stakeholders, he said.

North Dakota school districts will not be forced to come up with an alternative compensation plan, Burns said. The goal is to put the program funding out there for districts that want to try it.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, asked Burns if he thought large school districts in the state would be more apt to try the program than the small districts. Burns said the ability to try the program shouldn’t be influenced by the size of the district.

Commission Chairman and Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the work of Burns and his subcommittee “is a breakthrough moment in the history of K-12 education.”

“I really hope that we can help move this forward,” Dalrymple said. “(This is) something that’s been under discussion I think for 25 years in North Dakota. This is the first moment that I’ve seen something that I really think can work.”