Is performance pay for teachers ending in Kingsport schools?

Rick Wagner • Jan 19, 2020 at 8:54 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools’ time with a performance-based salary scale for teachers seems headed toward an end, although school board members have differing opinions on removing testing and evaluation scores completely from the scale.

Chief Human Resources Officer Jennifer Guthrie recently reported to the Board of Education that a compensation committee tasked with making recommendations about the pay scale is not yet ready to weigh in, citing the need to see what revenues are available first. She said that data will come later this year.

However, she told the BOE that the recommendation will move from a hard-to-understand, single-lane pay plan with 90 steps to a more traditional four-lane plan with about 30 steps each, much like the one KCS had in June 2013 before the school system adopted the current plan that went into effect for the 2014-15 school year. That was when Tennessee required every public school district to adopt a differentiated pay plan. However, those plans were not required to be performance-based, although that was the direction in which the state was moving at the time.


Guthrie said the proposal, with no numbers yet attached, would have one lane each for bachelor’s, master’s, education specialist (Ed.S.) and a doctorate of education (Ed.D.). It also would have the traditional steps for years of service, a system that neighboring Sullivan County Schools and other systems in Tennessee never abandoned. Left out would be a fifth category of master’s plus 45 hours, once a fifth Kingsport pay lane.

Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse explained that only 14 public school systems out of more than 130 in the state adopted a performance-based pay scale.

With the help of Battelle for Kids, the system developed a single-lane plan in which teachers who achieve a Level 5 effectiveness rating would get three step increases; those with a Level 4, two steps; and those with a Level 3, one step. Each step is worth $300, and under the current plan, beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree start at $44,300, while those with an advanced degree start at $47,800. They get an automatic increase for three years before the levels affect the step increases, and all teachers get any cost-of-living raises given across the board.

Guthrie said Kingsport’s school system has among the highest pay in Northeast Tennessee as well as the state, with more than 95% of teachers getting $600 or $900 in steps each year by getting a Level 5 or Level 4 effectiveness rating.


However, Guthrie said concerns with the current system that came out during committee discussions include:

— A lack of transparency, with potential new hires unable to determine what they would be paid under the single-lane system.

— Difficulty in recruiting new teachers because of the lack of transparency.

— Loss of competitiveness for those with advanced degrees to some systems, including Bristol, Tennessee, and Johnson City.

— Teachers transferring from other area systems with advanced degrees getting more pay than KCS teachers with comparable degrees and experience, leading to KCS teachers possibly leaving for higher paying jobs.

Guthrie also said the culture of pay for performance also has other problems, including:

— Administrators and teachers have contentious interactions over evaluations that are included in the level rankings.

— Teachers who don’t have a standardized test in what they teach having their evaluations dependent on student grades in other subject areas taught by other teachers.

— Teachers in testing subjects feeling pressure from teachers dependent on standardized tests outside what those other teachers teach.

— Some teachers are unwilling to explore alternative teaching methods because of the fear they might not result in higher test performance.

— Teachers still have accountability in evaluations, including classroom observations by administrators.

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