District 200's collective bargaining agreement with the Wheaton-Warrenville Education Association will expire at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, and the District is currently in the process of negotiating a new contract. Because labor costs (including salaries and benefits) consitute the vast majority of the District's spending - roughly 80% - these negotiations, more than any other factor, will determine the financial stability of the District going forward.
What can be done differently? For starters, the District should look at merit pay. We are constantly being told that we must pay X amount in base salary to attract the best teachers, or they will go work in other districts that pay more. But if we accept this "keeping up with the Joneses" argument, that teachers do respond to economic incentives, why stop there? Every job has a variety of benefits, financial and otherwise. But it's hard to argue that money makes top performers walk through the door, but then has no impact on their performance once they're here.
Once teachers are hired into the District, their compensation advances in lock step, whether they are good, great, or exceptional, or even not so good. So long as they meet minimum requirements, they get guaranteed raises every year. Why not provide merit pay to encourage higher performing teachers? A recent article in the New York Times reports on a similar program in Washington D.C., which is optional for teachers but already showing promise.
The story noted, “The most important role for incentives is in shaping who enters the teaching profession and who stays,” said Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of economics at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “Washington’s incentive system will attract talented teachers, and it’ll help keep the best ones.”
As we move into 2012, it's time for District 200 to adopt a 21st century teacher contract, rather than continuing with its current 1950s lockstep model.