San Antonio ISDs wait to see whether program survives.
By Pierre Bertrand | San Antonio Express News
Monday, August 1, 2011
San Antonio public school districts are waiting to hear whether the state's largest teacher merit pay program will survive the cut to its budget.
The District Awards for Teacher Excellence might no longer exist or will be modified after Texas Education Agency officials meet in the next couple of weeks to consider how to distribute the remaining funds in the next biennium, said DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman.
“Now that the legislative session is over, we will evaluate the changes made to the DATE grant funding and determine how to proceed in the next biennium,” Culbertson said in a statement.
Legislators recently cut billions from education funding, and with it funds for the program. According to TEA records, public schools in Bexar County that successfully applied for DATE funds have received $52 million since 2006. Now, districts statewide will have to grapple for $40 million in DATE funding.
In the three largest local districts already wracked by their own budget cuts, the reductions in merit payments is another blow to teachers, and in hindsight, some are wishing that money had been put to better use.
Shelly Potter president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, which in part represents teachers in San Antonio ISD, said she thinks most teachers statewide would call the DATE program a bust.
“Most teachers never understood the criteria for DATE so it wasn't something that you could necessarily look at and say, ‘OK, I know how to achieve this and get this money,'” she said. “One person described it to me as money that fell from the sky, and if it landed on you, great.”
To receive DATE awards, school districts submitted a proposal to the TEA outlining how it intended to use the money. As long as districts meet program schedules and requirements, funds are awarded based on how many students are expected to participate.
San Antonio ISD designed a DATE proposal rewarding teachers and other employees who improved student performances in math and science. Roughly 2,500 employees, including teachers, received DATE funds, up to $2,000 a year, for two years. But next year, SAISD teachers will go without the state merit payments. SAISD's grant period has expired, and Gilberto Santos, SAISD's DATE program evaluator, said there isn't enough money left in the program to apply for anyway.
Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, which opposed the creation of DATE, said he is sorry to see those teachers who received merit payments go without them, but in general the association is not sorry to see the program go. He said the merit program, like most others, was arbitrary — rewarding some teachers while forgetting others just as deserving of extra cash.
“It is a small part of what was a complete abdication of the governor and legislative majority of their constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public schools,” Robison said.
Tom Cummins, president of the Bexar County American Federation of Teachers, who also represents North East ISD, said he is disappointed the DATE money was not put directly into teacher salaries rather than a fund directly related to state testing scores.
“Basically Gov. Perry and legislators are admitting it wasn't a well-run program, and we'd agree with that. The fact that they killed it shows it wasn't a good program,” Cummins said.
John Folks, Northside ISD superintendent, whose district faces $61.4 million in cuts and the elimination of 973 positions, said 2013 will be very difficult.
Folks said his district will not yet know how much merit money they will have to offer teachers until August, when the school board officially approves the district's budget.“The way I see it, there will be very little money for (the DATE) program,” Folks said. “There is no doubt in my mind that (teachers) will be disappointed.”
Northside awarded money to those teachers who helped state testing scores in schools that are traditionally hard to staff and with the most economically disadvantaged students. About 1,000 employees received merit pay in 2009, and 1,650 employees in 2010 received the added pay ranging from a couple hundred dollars to $5,000, depending on what they taught. The district has one more allotment to hand out to 2,200 candidates this fall.
“The loss in DATE funding will be like losing an allowance,” said Lisa Moczygemba, Northside's incentive grant specialist.
Jackie Lain, associate executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards, said school districts were hesitant to participate in the grant program when it was created because districts were wary the funding would one day disappear – much like it will after this summer.
“There was just no guaranteed longevity,” Lain said, who added the loss of the DATE funding for those districts that did participate is likely to hurt teacher morale.
Cummins said morale among teachers throughout the county has been low, and that it's not getting any better.
“The burdens placed on teachers have increased, resources have decreased and the pay has not been rewarding for teachers,” Cummins said. “You have to make teaching an attractive profession, and the trend of the last few years has made it a very unattractive profession.”