I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Merit Pay Part IV

The local media in Pensacola has recently done a very brief, topical coverage of the merit pay issue in Escambia County. The Friday evening newscast on WEAR TV 3 did a 10 second piece with the number of teachers and the amount each teacher would get. The News Journal covered the story with 2 separate articles, one on Friday, Sept. 5th, and then another article on Sunday, Sept. 7th. A quick read of both articles will reveal that both of these articles are exactly the same, except for the titles. On Friday, the article was titled "Escambia Teachers Get Merit Pay"

Two days later, the article was re-titled to a more histrionic"Merit Pay no Reward for Some Teachers" with a sub-heading that reads "Union Head: Bonus is not given to all deserving educators"

I felt that the two articles could have done more to explain the background of the concept of merit pay for teachers. To the average reader, the articles came across illustrating our local plan as if it is a ho-hum, run of the mill event, nothing special. Why gloss over the fact that it was a difficult accomplishment for our district to get this plan developed, bargained, approved by DOE, and delivered to our teachers? Why change (and sensationalize) the title of the identical article for the big circulation Sunday Edition? Why not research the issue and give the readers two separate articles with more background? Why not mention the fact that the presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, both support the merit pay concept? Why no discussion about why 500 local teachers voluntarily "opted out"?

The article(s) also contained a characterization of the plan that was misleading---The following quote from the Union Boss:

"One thing inherently wrong with merit-pay schemes is that everyone who meets the standards doesn't get paid"

First of all, the "scheme" she refers to (Escambia County Merit Award Program) was developed with the teachers, approved by the local union, the state union, and the Florida School Boards Association. Another inconvenient fact-- each eligible educator was evaluated and scored, and there is a quantifiable difference between teacher 908(who received the bonus) and teacher 909 (who did not receive the bonus)--a cut-off point. The number of teachers paid was dictated by scores, developed using a broad based evaluation comprised of multiple factors. The number of teachers paid was determined by figuring 5% of the average district teacher salary ($2,100) and dividing the state award amount (2.1 Million) by this number. The district then paid the top scoring educators as far down the list as the money went. Simple as that, no surprises, no mystery. Teachers 1-908 made the cut, 908-1850 did not, and therefore did not earn the bonus. Perhaps a better way to characterize this in a positive way would have been to say that the district was able to pay out nearly 50% of eligible teachers.

If every teacher received the award, it would not be a merit bonus-but rather a de-facto district salary increase. I don't think the legislators who drafted this Merit Pay Plan wanted it to be spread out to everyone. That would have been a good fact to include in the articles as well.

In conclusion, I want to say that I feel strongly that Merit Pay for Teachers is a good idea. When I realized that the awarding of these bonuses was not going to be publicized, I wrote a "Viewpoint" article for the PNJ. I even called and spoke to the opinion editor to ensure he received it. He told me, "We're going to use it". But they never did. When the one local newspaper in town won't publish a reasonable viewpoint from an elected official familiar with the subject, that's pretty sad.

Here is my "Viewpoint" submitted to the PNJ on 8-28.

Teacher Merit Pay on the Way for Escambia County Educators

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board District 1

In March of 2007, Governor Crist signed the Merit Award Program (MAP) into law. The program has subsequently been endorsed by nearly every education entity in the state, including The Florida Education Association, The Florida School Boards Association, and locally, the Escambia Education Association. While many school districts around the state were not able to finalize and implement their MAP plans, Escambia County got the job done; When the smoke cleared on MAP Awards for 2007-2008, Escambia County was one of only 9 (out of 67) school districts that were able to develop, negotiate, and deliver an approved plan for our employees.

Merit Pay for teachers is a controversial concept, but an important point to note is that our plan was worked out collaboratively with our teachers. Our plan levels the playing field for those who participate—be it elementary, middle, or high school instructors, at schools that struggle or at schools that excel. Our Merit Award Program allows for every educator to have an shot at a bonus.

Details of the Escambia County School District’s Merit Pay Bonus payouts have been worked out and a fairly clear picture of what will transpire in the next few weeks is taking shape. The ECSD is about to inject 2.1 million bonus dollars into the local economy via individual teacher awards.

Here’s the way the plan will be implemented locally.

First, email notification was recently sent out from the district offices to personnel who were eligible to qualify for a merit bonus payment for the 2007-2008 school year.

Next, a notification mailing and paycheck stub will be sent between September 15th and October 1st, with bonus money distributed, along with regular pay, at the end of the month via direct deposit to those who have received the award.

The bonus amount will be roughly $2,050.00, after deduction for FICA. All bonus recipients will be receiving the same amount. (This amount equates to 5% of the average district teacher salary of just a little over $40,000.00)

Some interesting statistics are worthy of mention here:

The initial pool of potential qualified employees was roughly 3,200. A large number of employees were subsequently deemed to be not eligible for a variety of different reasons, leaving the pool of eligible instructional personnel at roughly 2,350. Of this number, 500 personnel voluntarily “opted-out” of consideration, leaving roughly 1,850 teachers in the qualified pool. Of this final 1,850 number, the district will be awarding 908 teachers with bonuses---nearly 50% of the total!

The fact that many teachers would voluntarily take themselves out of consideration is puzzling. I've even heard, anecdotally, that many individual school locations had a "wink and nod" agreement among their instructional personnel to all "opt-out" of the plan. This is disappointing and seems to fly in the face of the spirit of the plan.

If “opting-out” was the plan, it looks to me like not everyone got that memo. However, if these 500 educators feel so strongly about the issue, perhaps they'll opt out next year as well-- leaving more money in the pool for their fellow teachers. We’ll have to see how that works out.

At the district level, only about 79 persons were qualified at the end of the evaluation process. The final number of district level personnel who will be receiving a merit award is 36.

The district will be paying out a total of $2,094,929.00 in bonuses, with $60,505.00 going to our area charter schools for distribution to their employees.

Congratulations to all those hard working employees who’ve earned these bonuses.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should send your viewpoints to

They do a better job covering Escambia County than the PNJ, and it ain't 75 cent a day.

Jeff Bergosh said...

I like the site. They seem to cover the news objectively and the stories are relevant, concise, and to the point. My only potential critique would be, if you are going to basically lift a story directly off of my blog site--how about crediting the source via a link or at the very least an acknowledgement. Check these stories out, side by side.

and the earlier posted, source of their story:

or this one:

and the earlier posted, source of their story:

At least they pursue relevant stories, unlike the other Pensacola media, and besides--imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.