Friday, April 29, 2011

Listen to legislators debate CMS bill

For those who are interested in the debate over performance pay in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Thursday's legislative discussion of the controversial House Bill 546 is available in audio archive. Select 04-28-2011; the issue comes fairly early in the session.

The bill, of course, is the one that would grant the CMS school board authority to sidestep state requirements for teacher evaluation and pay in order to launch performance pay, which Superintendent Peter Gorman plans to do in 2014. Unlike a 2007 bill authorizing performance-pay pilots, it doesn't require teacher approval.

Five members of the local delegation weigh in. Sponsors Ruth Samuelson and Ric Killian, both Republicans, and Martha Alexander, a Democrat, urge colleagues to approve the bill, with the understanding that it will be "parked" before going to the Senate. Samuelson says CMS leaders "need time for the community in Charlotte to rally around it" and says district leaders haven't done well so far at getting teachers and parents on board. Alexander notes that some of the emails legislators have gotten from local opponents contain "misinformation," such as saying CMS plans to take $5,000 from all teachers to reward the top 25 percent.

Democrats Tricia Cotham and Beverly Earle urge defeat. Cotham, who is on leave as a CMS assistant principal and was once the district's teacher of the year, is the most vocal opponent. She says she met repeatedly with Gorman and others to talk about performance pay and doesn't oppose the concept. But she says Gorman has reneged on his promise to "do performance pay with teachers, rather than to teachers."

"They need the legislature to do the dirty work and to be the bad guy," she says. She also argues that it's hypocritical for legislatures to green-flag extra testing in CMS while scaling back on state testing.

The bill passed 72-42, so the ball is back in CMS' court. So what comes next?

I'm still trying to get word from Gorman on that. My guess is performance-pay goes on the back burner until the 2011-12 budget gets through Mecklenburg County commissioners, with large numbers of parents and community leaders gearing up to push for more money. By then, the pilot version of the new tests will have been given in May. Best case for Gorman: They go smoother than the April "field tests" and some of the opposition dies down. Worst case: Parents and teachers are incensed once again about the time and energy that go into all these new tests, which will be taking place about the time layoff notices go out.

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