Durango School District 9-R rightly has had many discussions with the community about the dire budgetary conditions it will face in the 2009-2010 school year. That grim outlook forced the district to trim its staffing by 19 - nine teachers and 10 classified staff, which includes secretaries, aides and custodial staff. While those layoffs were uncomfortable for the district and those who lost their jobs, the news was not all bad for the coming academic year.
The school board last month approved an agreement between the district and the Durango Education Association and Durango Support Personnel Association that will grant raises to all district staff. Support personnel will see the largest salary increase at 7 percent; teachers and technical staff will earn 5 percent more and administrators will average a 4 percent boost. Those are significant increases in a district that has long been noted for its subpar salaries in comparison with similar districts around Colorado. It is a good step for 9-R to take.
Upon his arrival in Durango, 9-R superintendent Keith Owen, who took the position in 2008, quickly learned that 9-R employees were comparatively underpaid. He began looking into the inequity and has been an advocate for rectifying it, recognizing that the cost of living in Durango is sufficiently high to merit pay increases and that the quality of life in the community is not a good enough reason to ask teachers and other school staff to work for less than their peers around the state.
That perception - and commonality among many workers in Durango, not just those employed by 9-R - is a good reason to boost salaries for district employees. However, there ought to be other measures used in distributing pay increases. Allocating raises based on performance is one of these, but the challenge is determining what benchmarks a teacher or staff member must demonstrate in order to qualify.
There has been effort, of course, at the national level to attach school success to student test performance, and teachers are, by extension, judged accordingly. That is just one piece of a complex puzzle, though. While test scores certainly reflect one measure of a teacher's effectiveness, they also can be as much a product of a school's curriculum, student demography or the cultural bias of the test itself. That is not to say the scores lack any meaning, nor that they cannot shed light on schools that need help improving their educational offerings. But test scores alone are not a sufficient measure of a teacher's worth as an educator and should not, in a merit analysis, be the sole gauge used.
The trick, then, is how to analyze that merit and then appropriately distribute the pot of money available districtwide for raises. Peer review is one possibility, as is gathering input from the administrators and community members whose children have been students of a given teacher. By gathering a comprehensive set of data, determining who gets how much of a pay increase can be a fair, if exhaustive process that ensures all employees get an increase but those most valuable to the district see an incentive to continue being such an asset. It also would encourage others to invest more in their efforts as educators.