Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Offer Matawan-Aberdeen Teachers a Choice

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School Board is presently negotiating a 3-year employment contract with the Matawan Regional Teachers Association. The proposed contract explicitly forbids the school district from offering personal contracts to any teacher even if the teacher would profit from such a contract. That provision needs to be amended to allow teachers the option to either accept the Teachers Association employment contract or a personal employment contract.

Below is a proposal for an alternative teacher’s contract. Those teachers earning over $80,000 a year with full health benefits for handling a 5-course load would never accept such a contract. However, for those teaching less than 10 years (which comprise half the faculty), such a contract may be attractive. They would have the opportunity to earn substantially more money and, in the process, both raise student performance and save the school district a bundle of money.

I propose the following 3-year contract -

For teaching 6 daily periods, a teacher shall earn the following:
Base salary of $40,000
Annual 2% base salary increase
$5,000 base salary increase for each 5 years of experience
Blue Cross / Blue Shield National PPO with $2,000 deductible
$2,000 contribution to teacher’s Health Savings Account
401K with double matching contributions (maxing at 10% of salary)
Performance bonus
Departmental bonus pool
Any teacher performing in the bottom five percent of the school may be dismissed, at the principal’s and superintendent’s discretion, for just cause.

Performance Bonus:
$40 for each student
$1 for each point for each student scoring above 70% on the standardized 1st semester exam (maximum - $30 per student)
$1 for each point for each student scoring above 70% on the standardized 2nd semester exam (maximum - $30 per student)
$2 for each point for each student scoring above 70% on the standardized final exam (maximum - $60 per student)
$2 for each point for each student scoring above his prior year’s score in a comparable class on the standardized 1st semester exam (maximum - $60 per student)
$2 for each point for each student scoring above his prior year’s score in a comparable class on the standardized 2nd semester exam (maximum - $60 per student)
$4 for each point for each student scoring above his prior year’s score in a comparable class on the standardized final exam (maximum - $120 per student)

(In summary: For each student - $40 + $10/point above 70% + $20/point of improvement with double points for final exams.)

Departmental Bonus Pool:
A bonus shall be awarded to each department that spends less than budgeted. 20% of the difference shall be disbursed to those participating in the bonus pool. 40% of the difference shall be deposited into the department’s “special projects” account and used at the department’s discretion (with administration approval) for educational projects.

Although the school district would continue to pay for graduate coursework, we would no longer reward advanced degrees but only performance. Additionally, students should be annually assessed using international assessment tests to assure a correlation between our standardized exams and global standards.

Furthermore, students would have the limited ability to choose their teachers. Administrators would try to accommodate all student requests while still considering class size. Those teachers in higher demand would thereby earn larger bonuses than those teachers in low demand.

As an example, let’s look at a teacher with 7 years of experience who holds a masters degree plus 30 credits. Under the current system, he would earn about $52,000.

Using the proposed bonus system, a teacher working 6 periods would have about 100 students and likely average $120 bonus dollars for each student (potentially much more). Using a base of $40,000 + $5,000 for each 5 years of experience + $12,000 in bonuses (not including the departmental bonus pool) equals $57,000. Better teachers with the same level of experience would earn over $60,000 from a combination of larger class sizes and higher average student bonuses.

In exchange, that same teacher would be required to teach one extra-period a day and have greater exposure to being fired for poor performance.

Despite the higher pay, the district would reap huge financial savings. Having teachers instruct 6 periods instead of 5 would reduce the faculty payroll by 15%. Additionally, we’d likely have far fewer students requiring special instruction as teachers would have greater incentives to help these students improve.

The above proposal would be quite alluring to those who have less than 10 years of experience. Since these are personal employment contracts, separate contracts, using a similar bonus system, could be crafted for more experienced teachers.

Teachers would always have a choice of selecting from the personal employment contract or the union contract. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all employment contract, the school district could negotiate individual contracts for specific situations.

If the Teachers Association wants their members to participate in bonus plans as well, they can negotiate those terms with the school board.

Naturally, many of these provisions would require waivers from the state legislature (such as moving teachers to a 401K or a national PPO and implementing health savings accounts) but teacher bonuses do not require waivers. Additionally, these incentive plans could be extended to the administration and staff.

Reasonable people can dispute which contract offers better terms – mine or the Teachers Association’s. All I ask is that each teacher be allowed to choose for himself.
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28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Has anyone received the new town calendar? I can't beleive that the mayor would say "We were very instrumental in getting a new bridge for Wilson Avenue", if that were the case then he and the other council members would have been invited to the official opening right? Just more lies printed in propaganda paid for by the taxpayers. Message to the mayor - try not to hurt yourself when patting yourself on the back...

Anonymous said...

I do not know of one single teacher that would agree to the proposed contract. I have three teachers in my immediate family and about ten friends who are teachers.
You can't run a school district like a business.

Aberdeener said...

If you don't think a single teacher would agree to the proposed contract, then I assume you'd agree there's no harm in offering it.

Truth In Matawan said...

I wonder how many can understand it. Not being facetious, just pointing out it's very nuanced and would require careful consideration, not just a quick run-through.

Anyone who felt they were a good teacher would rightly understand they could make more money under that contract. Anyone who's a bad teacher and just worried about saving their own asses with no consideration for the children would reject it outright for the safety in numbers the union offers.

Aberdeener said...

I started with attaching a theoretical $400 bonus to each pupil. Then divided that into 10% for attendance, 30% for performance, and 60% for improvement. Then, I further divided that into two semester exams and one final.

I don't know how to make the plan any simpler. Nor am I too concerned with its complexity. For new teachers who have not yet accumulated graduate credits, this plan is a no-brainer. Once younger teachers start earning more money than some of their associates, the plan will gain in popularity.

Anonymous said...

aberdeener- agreed, no harm in the offer.
Truth in Matawan- Why do you automatically assume that only a bad teacher would disagree?
A good teacher would understand the needs of the special ed students as well as the regular ed and gifted students, and would realize that a plan that calls for equating student performance with monetary benefit would only hurt the children in the long run.
Plus there are way too many problems with the testing issue. I agree the students in NJ need to compete with international standards but the costs alone in creating these test, implementing them, and then analyzing them would take most of your budget. The fact that the plan calls for departments to not use their entire budgets is also a problem. How can you tell a science teacher that has so many lab costs incurred to "scale it back" in spending? They need every dollar to offer your children the education to compete with international students.

Aberdeener said...

Anonymous,
I share your concerns regarding standardized tests and tying teacher compensation to them. There are too many cases of teachers only teaching to the test and unduly pressuring their students.

However, absent competition among public schools, I cannot think of any alternative methods to raise student achievement. We can't measure student performance without standardized exams and there's no way to measure teacher performance without relying upon those same exams.

Aside from standardized exams, can you think of any way to gauge student and faculty progress?

Truth In Matawan said...

Anonymous--good series of questions. We were speaking from the point of view of a teacher merely concerned with their own pay rates--and job security. While under Aberdeener's plan, perhaps unscrupulous teachers might seek to over-pack their classes in an effort to raise their pay, we really don't think that is too likely a scenario, but again, we just don't know.

As far as the costs involved with implementing proper testing, DO IT! We're spending an obscene amount of money for inferior results; spending more money in an effort to better those results would be an expenditure we could get behind.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Your contract is so cool! You must have spent hours researching and writing this up! I have a question though- How much money can a gym, art, music, language or computer teacher make? They see approximately 300 to 600 or more students per week depending on the school size. There is usually only one of them in an elementary building and they are not (yet) included in the state standardized tests. Popularity is not a factor because the students don't get a choice. How would you measure improvement? Would the per pupil bonus be more for a bigger school that has more children or more for gym teachers that see all the students twice a week? Hmmm.... By the way, your elementary teachers DID get a prep period when you were in school- I think it was when you were in music, gym, art, language or computers.

Anonymous said...

Here's a better idea:
Instead of having students choose teachers, let's have the teachers "draft" students, like in football. Each teacher can pick one student and then the round goes to the next teacher to pick. All trades between teachers can be done right after the initial draft. This way the classes will be more evenly distributed, thus "leveling the playing field". What do you think?

Aberdeener said...

You raise a good point regarding gym teachers. I'm not sure how to rate their performance but I'm open to ideas. As I've stated, there is no one-size-fits-all employment contract but my proposal would accommodate about half the faculty.

Regarding prep time in elementary school, I stand corrected. My teachers did get prep time twice a week while I was in gym class.

As for teachers being allowed to draft students, I'd be strongly opposed. The schools exist to serve the students, not the other way around. We should make every reasonable effort to allow students to select their teachers.

Taxpayer2 said...

Discussing your comments with friends at a party we all agreed that in school we would pick the teacher that gave the least amount of work or who had the reputation of giving the "easy" A. That would certainly make a teacher the most popular to kids and parents looking for good grades. I would want my own children in the unpopolar class with the teacher that is the hardest to get good grades- that is the challenging teacher that will teach my child the most. We all agreed at the party that you should go into a school in the district and see what really goes on in there for your $. Our kids are doing amazing things with our tax dollars that can't be measured on paper by the state or compared to other countries. Taxes are too high, but maybe we are spending them on something worth it- our future leaders. Here's a thought- go to the awards night in June at the high school and see how many students are going off to colleges (Ivy Leagues too)and how many got scholarships thanks to tax payers like you.

Truth In Matawan said...

Taxpayer, can't speak for Aberdeener but we've been to quite a few of the high school awards night, and they ARE impressive.

But view subjectively, not impressive enough. It seem that people are impressed by the words "Ivy League". So if four children (or three or two) in our ENTIRE SCHOOL DISTRICT go on to an Ivy League school, the citizenry (and your friends at your party) are suitably wowed. Really? We'd like to see a LOT more than that, and we'd also like to see better performance across the board.

Because the facts are (and any teacher will tell you this), there will be a very small percentage of students that will thrive no matter what kind of teachers/school they have because they have parents that are smart enough, care enough, and have enough money to first make education a priority and second ensure that this is followed through on. Bottom line, the kids from those three or four families were going to Ivy Leagues no matter where those kids lives. If you're going to try to give the schools credit for that, make sure you give them equal credit for all the dropouts and delinquents--which, again, has as much to do with the home environment (more really) than the school one.

We don't know what your familiarity is with schools and teachers and education systems, having teachers in the family (and in the home) might give us a little different perspective, but when you say "Our kids are doing amazing things with our tax dollars that can't be measured on paper by the state or compared to other countries." it seems to us like you're too easily impressed.

Sure, what's going on is amazing. The learning process, watching our kids learn and explore an evolve is an amazing thing to behold. But your statement falls short of ringing true when you deplore the comparisons that are all too necessary. We NEED to be comparing to other people in the world, in the country, in the state, in the COUNTY! Or our children will have NO CHANCE to succeed in life. If they're not being properly prepared, AND we're being over-taxed by a fiscally irresponsible school board held at gunpoint by a thuggish teachers union to boot, it's a double whammy.

Current situation: Over-paying for under-performance.

Acceptable situation: Over-paying for over-performance or paying a fair amount for good performance.

Desired situation: Paying a fair amount for over-performance.

Yes, that last part is fantasy, it would require a school board and teachers who care more about educating our children than making a fortune and not paying for health care and working less days and less periods per day.

Lastly, this, taken from the MARSD homepage:
UPDATE ON NEGOTIATIONS WITH UNION

"Since the beginning of negotiations in the Winter of 2007, the Board of Education had proposed a need to curtail the escalating costs of medical insurance coverage for District employees. In prior negotiated agreements with District Administrators and secretarial/clerical employees, the Board of Education and their Associations agreed to an employee contribution toward medical insurance benefits. The amount of the employee contribution ranges from a 1% annual salary contribution for the secretarial/clerical employees to a $1,100. contribution for each administrator in the District. The Board of Education incurs costs for medical insurance in excess of $4.5 million per school year. As a result, the District is always looking for ways to reduce these costs.

The Board of Education originally proposed to the Matawan Regional Teachers Association various alternatives for insurance modifications, including similar contributions toward premiums, changes to the types of medical insurance plans offered, or any other suggestions offered by the Association to reduce the escalating costs on behalf of the Board.

Despite these options, the MRTA has offered no proposal other than to maintain the “status quo” to the current health insurance problem."


In other words, it's okay for the secretaries, the janitors, the custodians, heck, even the ADMINISTRATORS to pay something (even if it's a meager 1%) into their spiraling-out-of-control health insurance costs which are bankrupting the borough and the township--but the teachers union STILL feels that it's unreasonable to ask them to contribute one. measly. penny.

Thanks, teachers!

Aberdeener said...

Taxpayer2,

I believe most parents are like you and want the best education for their kids. Students choosing the easiest teachers won't be doing as well on the standardized exams as the ones who choose the more challenging classes. Additionally, those parents who are involved in their children's education generally know who are the better teachers. I see no reason why we can't try to accommodate their preferences.

I agree that there's far more to an education than what's covered in a standardized exam but don't the students with the better education generally do better on the standardized exams? My primary focus is on how to improve education. If someone could offer other ideas, I'd love to hear them.

There is simply no excuse for our district to perform below average and we owe it to our students to do the best we can.

As an aside, in the class of 2006 (the most recent year that the state has online results) fewer than half of our graduates went to 4-year colleges. On a positive note, so far two of our seniors have been accepted to Ivy League universities and I hope that number will increase in the coming months.

matawan advocate said...

The majority of children in the school system are not Ivy League material. Agree the Ivy League candidates would do well in any school. More importantly, what about the average student. What is being done to maximize their potential? Some members of the School Board have college bound candidates for children. Having average children, as the majority, like to see more done to inspire them. What is being done about children who are disruptive and preventing other children from learning and preventing teachers from teaching. What about some kind of dress code? Children wearing pajama bottoms to school is absolutely ridiculous.

We too have teachers in our families. Are the teachers dedicated? Are they interested in educating your children? The days of dedicated teachers are slowly ending. We could be looking at the "what's in it for me" teachers!

Why shouldn't teachers pay their fair share of health insurance costs like the rest of us? Do all of the schools in the surrounding towns have to pay all this money? Do they get the same results? Do they also have the income to keep up with the rising costs? Matawan will become a small town that used to be quaint if costs keep rising.

Anonymous said...

spoke with a matawan middle school teacher. She told me that the standardized test scores of the middle school students grades 6,7,8 have been steadily rising in the area of mathematics.

Aberdeener said...

According to New Jersey's online report card, math scores have been dipping for both the HSPA and the SATs.

Aberdeener said...

I deleted the most recent comment because it included vulgarity. I always try to err on the side of free speech but vulgarity is not allowed on this blog.

Truth In Matawan said...

Who posted it?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Aberdeener,

Though you do speak as some one who has intelligence, I really have problems with some of your attacks on our schools. Have you EVER been to one of them, gone to an open house, attended more than one school board meeting? How long have you lived in this town? Have you ever driven throughout ALL of Matawan and Aberdeen? This is a culturally diverse, working class town that has its go-getters and those who sruggle. To make accusations which you only use internet based facts is unfair. Facts are that Matawan Aberdeen is very congruent to its neighboring towns. More than you realize apparently. This is seen in your comment about "when children struggle in school the MARSD get a special ed. teacher and you say THE PARENTS". Well not everyone is as lucky as you i guess to work in the booming field on technology. You and your wife raise your child. Did you ever realize that in some homes in this town BOTH parents have to work IF there is a "both"? This town is a great place to raise a child where they will see and come into contact with all ends of the spectrum of life....... And your contract for teachers with all of your break downs = a piece of work. So "great parents" such as yourself will help those teachers meet the monetary goals and those who have to work 12 hours or who CANNOT help their child or DO NOT help their child AT HOME - what about them? SOME OF YOUR BLOGS ARE NOT FAIR AND SOUND LIKE SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT KNOW A THING ABOUT THIS TOWN IN WHICH YOU HAVE RECENTLY MOVED INTO.......

Aberdeener said...

Anonymous,

I’d like to thank you for your comments. My opinions are data-driven, hence my reliance on the Internet for research. I reject the notion that a “diverse” community should have lower test scores than other areas. I am disgusted by the complacency that allows our children to perform below average. I can’t understand why so many people are so willing to excuse failure.

I believe offering financial incentives will improve performance, just as they do in every other industry. If someone thinks he has a better idea, I encourage him to share it. To date, not one person has suggested any alternatives.

I am confident our children can do much better. You are not. Therein lies the rub.

Truth In Matawan said...

We got a letter in the mail today asking for our support of the MRTA in giving them everything they want in a new contract. They wanted us to call the board members and pressure each of them to give in on all points.

We had to laugh.

This is obviously something that should not be done, but the point is, thanks to the union, the teachers are organized and have a campaign with follow-through. Neither the children nor the taxpayers have such an organized association nor a corresponding campaign. The teachers, sadly, will most likely win on all points. We'll keep paying 100% of their health care costs, illogically--even though all other school district personnel already contribute.

Anonymous said...

According to New Jersey's online report card, math scores have been dipping for both the HSPA and the SATs.

Both of those tests are given to high school students. I ACTUALLY SPOKE to a teacher who is in your middle school. I am only guessing but somewhere between middle school testing and HS testing you may have a decline in the top scoring student population.
You keep asking for answers on how to get rid of the "bad" teachers. I can't really say that I have a solution. If you try to do what you are doing you will penalize all the teachers and not the very small percentage that aren't good. Offer more training for teachers that have been evaluated and found to be in need of improvement in a specific area. ie classroom management. Isn't it about helping people? Supporting people? If your teachers are happy that translates to the classroom. The kids are happy to be there (mostly) and then school becomes a positive place to learn.
You posted before that these "superstar" teachers are what you are looking for. There was a reply to that statement. The anonymous that wrote back said that those superstar teachers are "made" with a lot of hard work. because of the union the bad teachers are protected from vindictive reprisals by administrators and supervisors, and given the opportunity to improve. Nobody is perfect. The good teachers need that same protection.
If someone is making mistakes then you need to help them fix those mistakes. They need the tools to improve. If you tried to perform at a Broadway show this Saturday I am sure it might not go as well as you hope it would. After time you will practice and get better. After seminars,lessons, and methods studied you will find that you are getting better and better. Teachers are taught theory in their colleges and it isn't until they apply what they have learned and gotten into the trenches that they find what works best for them and the students. Student teaching helps but it isn't until you have your own class that you get a flow.
Parents today are taking less and less responsibility for their part in their child's education, and are so willing to put blame on others. So in turn, students are taking less and less responsibility for their part in their OWN education, and are more willing to put blame on others as well. I think that is why some of your students, as well as students in other districts, aren't doing well on tests.So, to improve those scores, I would think you would need to change society as a whole. That, I am sure you agree, is a difficult problem to solve.
What would you have done with that fifth grader who can't read and maybe has a processing disability if he/she has no parental support? No one but his/her teacher checking to see if he/she does homework (practice) and no one but his/her teacher to care if he/she does, so why should he/she?

matawan advocate said...

Aberdeener, How much would it save if teachers contributed to their health plan coverage? Is it substantial?

Aberdeener said...

Anonymous,

I think the disconnect I'm having is understanding why people believe that business practices that have been so successful in private industry should not be applied to education. Every company has benefited from structural incentives to improve performance and control costs. Why wouldn't our schools benefit as well?

As for the fifth grader who can't read, I would do the following:
1) Not wait till 5th grade but begin the intervention in 2nd grade.
2) Call in the parents for a meeting. If they don't come to the school, I would go to their home.
3) Provide them a copy of the lesson plan so they know what's expected of their child and supplemental materials to help the parents tutor the child.
4) If there's no improvement within a month, I'll arrange for tutorial services (after school or in home) by older students or community volunteers.
5) If after another month there is still no improvement, I would take the child out of school and place him in an outside program with a strong record of success. The child would return as soon as he learned to read.

I recognize a child may need more than a month of help but we should begin to see improvement within that time frame.

I strongly believe my approach would be far more effective, far less harmful, and far less costly than the school district's Response to Intervention program, which relies upon unproven or disproven theories of education.

Here's a suggestion - Allow parents to choose between the two approaches and see which one develops the better track record.

Aberdeener said...

MA,

I don't have the actual figures but, using some very general numbers and assuming the same 1% salary deduction as the staff, we're looking at savings in the neighborhood of $215,000. Of course, that annual savings would increase as salaries increased.

However, keep in mind that we're talking about saving money by taking it out of our teachers' pockets. This is the same as a salary cut.

If the board negotiates a salary increase to compensate the teachers for the health care contribution, then it's all a wash, anyways.

Personally, I think it's a mistake to talk about salaries. Instead, we should be focusing on the total cost of a teacher, including salary, benefits, pension, and taxes.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea how little a teacher's salary is these days? Based on the expired Matawan Teachers Contract, a teacher in the district for 11 years WITH a Masters degree in education makes roughly $55,000.00. Can you believe it? It is a travesty that the Board would even CONSIDER taking MORE money out of teachers pockets? That's very sad...

Aberdeener said...

Rather than discuss salary, I prefer to focus on a teacher's total compensation - salary plus benefits.

In most industries, compensation is determined by market forces - supply and demand. If teachers submitted themselves to those same market forces, do you believe, on average, their compensation would go up or down?