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AISD teacher appraisals impetus for possible new salary structure

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 by Courtney Griffin

In a unanimous vote Monday, the Austin Independent School District board of trustees gave the green light to its new teacher appraisal system, which ties teacher appraisals to student performance on standardized tests. Kimiko Krekel, AISD’s executive director of educator quality, said the new appraisal system was also built with a second step in mind: revamping the way AISD pays its teachers.

“It’s a lot of ifs,” Krekel told the Austin Monitor, but the staff plans to present a draft of the new salary structure to the board in April. “Currently, teachers are paid mainly based off their years of experience, but we wanted to look at what expertise teachers have and reward the ways in which they are growing.”

Teacher growth and incentives are main themes in AISD’s new appraisal system, called Professional Pathways for Teachers (also known as PPfT), which is the brainchild of local stakeholders. Starting in fall 2016, PPfT will use a combination of students’ standardized test scores, professional growth initiatives and classroom evaluations to determine a teacher’s “grade.”

AISD employee union Education Austin, the American Federation of Teachers and AISD staff have been planning the appraisal system since 2013, after federal and state officials began leaning toward tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores.

But while the Texas Education Agency now requires some portion of standardized test scores to be tied to teacher appraisals by the 2016-2017 school year, AISD’s new system does not follow the state agency’s recommendation. The TEA recommends that districts tie 20 percent of individual student test scores to individual teacher appraisals.

However, Krekel said, AISD chose a more multifaceted evaluation system, which was within the district’s right. Its new appraisal system bases 15 percent of a teacher’s appraisal on teacher-set student growth metrics and another 10 percent of the evaluation on campus-wide improvement seen in math and English standardized test scores. A teacher’s remaining score comes from multiple principal-performed classroom evaluations and professional development opportunities.

“We wanted a tool that recognizes more of the work teachers do, and this appraisal system does that,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, during public comment.

Krekel said that if AISD board members approve the proposed salary system that is tied to the appraisal system, salary increases would be determined by weighing a teacher’s years of experience and points earned through PPfT. Currently, most school districts in Texas determine teacher salaries solely on years of experience and academic degrees.

On average, Krekel said, she expects base salary increases under the proposed new system to range from $500 to $1,500 annually per teacher. But, she added, a teacher could boost her base pay by $23,000 over the course of a career in one year.

Michael Houser, AISD chief human capital officer, told the Monitor that if AISD trustees approve the financial piece of the appraisal system in April, staff will phase in the needed capital for salary increases over a four-year time period. The ultimate increase in capital assets would come to $12 million annually.

“The real difficulty for this school district is: We can attract people, people want to live here, and they get off to a great start — but there are very competitive (pay) rates (from surrounding areas) as they move forward,” Houser told board members Monday. “I think we’re going to find that the evaluation system (PPfT) … will open up a lot of new opportunities in terms of teacher pay.”

Currently, AISD average teacher pay is $48,037. In addition, AISD is the lowest-paying school district of the surrounding areas and has the highest cost of living. Houser has previously said that when AISD approves experience-based raises, the raises can be easily matched or exceeded by the surrounding school districts, which have more expendable funds because they are not subject to the state’s recapture laws.

This story has been corrected

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