SD Senate panel OKs teacher bonus ideaPIERRE — A bill that would give bonuses to top-performing South Dakota teachers was approved Thursday by a Senate committee, despite criticism from opponents who argue that the extra money should instead be put toward school districts’ general operating budgets.
By: VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, The Associated Press
PIERRE — A bill that would give bonuses to top-performing South Dakota teachers was approved Thursday by a Senate committee, despite criticism from opponents who argue that the extra money should instead be put toward school districts’ general operating budgets.
The Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 Thursday in favor of an amended version of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s merit-pay plan, which would eventually spend $15 million a year to implement several programs aimed at improving student performance.
The bill would launch in 2013 an annual scholarship program for 100 college students who pursue teaching degrees in critically needed subjects. Recipients would get tuition help if they teach the subject for at least five years in a South Dakota school.
The bill would also provide a $2,500 annual reward for high-achieving math and science teachers in middle and high schools.
In addition, the bill includes Daugaard’s original plan to give $5,000 annual bonuses to the top 20 percent of each school district’s teachers, based on a new evaluation system and student performance. The revised plan allows school districts to follow the governor’s original plan, create their own teacher reward plans or not participate. A council set up by the state Education Department would help districts develop their plans.
Tenure protections would be eliminated in July 2016. Those who have protection by then would keep it, but still could be fired for poor performance.
Currently, any South Dakota teacher who has worked more than three years in a district has tenure and can be fired for poor performance, gross immorality or other misconduct.
State Education Secretary Melody Schopp said the measure should improve student achievement.
“We can take a lot of time researching, discussing and talking, but when we don’t put forward a bold plan, we’ll come again next year and talk about education,” Schopp said.
“Without the right people to hire, we’re simply in a huge problem,” said Joe Graves, Mitchell School District superintendent, referencing the scholarship program intended to draw new teachers into subjects like chemistry and physics. “No one was discussing substantive changes in teacher compensation until this bill was brought forward.”
But opponents said such major changes should not be made after just a couple months of debate.
Jim Holbeck, superintendent of Harrisburg School District, said he has yet to see legislators or the governor’s staff take a walk through his schools to see how his teachers and students perform.
“My system’s not broken, it’s broke,” Holbeck said, explaining his district needs extra money, not an overhaul.