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Bonus for teachers, schools

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Change is hard. That certainly applies to the teaching profession, which historically has balked at pay linked to performance rather than seniority. It therefore is refreshing to see a teachers' union at least begin to reconsider its longtime resistance to bonus systems.

Nearly 10,000 delegates to the National Education Association meeting in Chicago voted this week not to stand in the way of locals that want to consider bonuses or that have them imposed upon them by school boards or state legislatures. Although they still exhibit stiff resistance to any pay-for-performance plans, it seems they finally are taking the concept seriously, perhaps realizing that the momentum toward merit pay is increasing nationwide. Cincinnati last month became the first public school district to replace its pay-by-seniority scale with pay based on performance. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is proposing bonuses based on test scores.

Virtually every private business and public agency has a system of evaluations in place to ensure quality and determine merit. Employees rarely get away with arguing that they did poorly because they weren't paid enough or that the company didn't provide enough resources or that their jobs could not be measured in any meaningful way. Public education, which to a large extent shapes the nation's future, ought to be scrutinized accordingly.

A pay-for-performance plan is not the only answer. Lawmakers need to make both public and higher education a top priority when allocating public resources. While bonus plans can serve as both an incentive and accountability tool, base salaries need to be high enough to attract better teachers.

Lawmakers, educators and parents need to work together to find the right balance for paying teachers and school administrators. What may work in New York may not in Utah, but surely a system could be put in place that incorporates a bonus plan in Utah and all other states.

Teachers in the Denver public school system are to be commended for voting last year to ratify a new contract that ties the raises of about 10 percent of its members to how well their students perform. Teachers receive an extra $1,000 if their students meet goals principals and teachers set for performance on national and state tests.

The pilot program will last for two years. Teachers will then decide whether to expand it or scrap it.

The Utah Education Association needs to look closely at that and other pay-for-performance plans and then endorse one that best meets Utah's needs. What the UEA can't afford to do is continue with a system that rewards nothing but the ability to stick around. It's ridiculous to hold to the belief that teachers can't be held accountable for how well they teach.