By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Following six years of discussions, Bend-La Pine Schools has made a small change to an old practice that tied teacher wage increases to experience and education but nothing else.

The district’s new pay schedule was agreed upon by a team of administrators, teachers and leaders from the teacher’s union and was accepted by the board late last month. The changes will only affect new and early-career educators, but Superintendent Ron Wilkinson characterizes the shift as “a small change to a very, very established system.” The group has agreed to continue discussing further changes, which could affect teachers at all career stages. Wilkinson emphasized that the salary levels themselves are not being drastically changed, but rather the way teachers can progress from one level to the next.

“In the traditional system, there were automatic steps up annually, and compensation was based on experience and taking more (university) credits,” Wilkinson said. “We made this change so advancements will be based on things with a more direct correlation to increasing student achievement.”

Speaking in April, Bend Education Association President Bob Markland said he is “really happy, as I don’t think it’s a giant step, but a small step in the right direction.”

“I think we got a lot of the problems that were initially in the schedule out of the way, and it’s a great opportunity to pilot the program and make sure the district can afford it and values it,” Markland added.

Markland said that initially the district was hoping to begin with a pilot that would include more teachers at later career stages, but that the team of teachers and administrators were able to “navigate away from that.”

The new schedule divides teachers into three categories: early-career professional, professional educator and master educator. The approved change only affects early-career professionals, or those who are in their first five years of teaching. Under the new system, teachers will be required to complete prescribed development programs to receive an annual increase. If teachers are able to complete the requirements for all five years within four years, they can skip a step, earning the salary of a sixth-year educator their fifth year.

While the district and union haven’t agreed on what will change for professional and master educators, Wilkinson said early plans suggest later opportunities to jump ahead on salary increases during the professional educator term, mirroring the approach in the final year of the first five years. During the professional educator period, which runs from year 6 to 15, the development guidelines will be tailored to the teacher’s interests and subject areas, as opposed to being fully determined by the district, which is largely the case for the first five years.

The biggest potential change, however, concerns reaching the master educator category, which offers the highest pay. Currently, a teacher with a master’s degree can reach the top salary level, of just under $70,000, after 17 years on the job. Wilkinson hopes that will change, reserving the top salary levels for master educators, which, as proposed, would mean a teacher who has earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

To become certified, teachers must go through a rigorous review process that evaluates pedagogical and content-area skills. According to Jay Mathisen, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources and facilities planning, 14 teachers in the district are currently certified. Five of those were newly certified in 2013.

“The system today doesn’t have a culminating step where you demonstrate mastery,” Wilkinson said. “This would provide that.”

Wilkinson argued there is currently very little incentive for teachers to become certified, and that if the new pay scale was fully approved, in a decade he could see the district having “roughly 100” certified teachers. The added incentive comes from a proposed rule that would allow certified teachers to reach the initial master educator pay level of $65,000 after only 10 years on the job. In the current schedule, a teacher would reach that level after 15 years.

“The truth is, in the long run, it could cost the district more, if we had teachers working to be exemplary,” Wilkinson said. “But, is that a bad thing? I don’t think it necessarily is. If we had incentives built on things that make educators more effective, then that’s a good thing.”

Wilkinson also said that while the district could potentially end up paying more to teachers, the top level of salaries will be blocked off from those unable to earn certification. Nonetheless, according to his current estimates, Wilkinson believes the new schedule will likely be cost neutral, and the pilot will help to refine estimates.

The district and union have yet to approve anything beyond the first five years, but have entered into an agreement to continue discussions. Wilkinson acknowledged that resistance comes from the perception that this new schedule reflects a shift toward including student progress in teacher pay, which this system as proposed does not do.

Performance-based pay is being explored on a small scale at certain Bend-La Pine Schools through a grant aimed at exploring the system’s effectiveness for increasing student outcomes. Nationwide, teacher unions have largely resisted salaries tied to student performance, arguing the practice does not better encourage teachers and that student test scores are not an accurate reflection of a teacher’s effectiveness.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,