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Commentary: Creativity in compensation not likely

Gov. Jim Doyle is hoping for major changes in teacher compensation, including merit pay.  That smacks of wishful thinking. President Barack Obama once floated similar ideas and they got the cold shoulder from teacher unions.

The current labor contracts with teacher unions are “just locked in a way that you can’t reward teachers who’ve done outstanding work over teachers who haven’t done such good work,” the governor recently told the Appleton Post Crescent.

“What I’m looking forward to here is an opportunity for us to look much more effectively at how we compensate teachers in a way that meets the needs we have,” said Doyle. “We have to attract good, smart young people into teaching. We have to make sure the teachers who start out and are good continue.

“We’ve got to make sure our best teachers are taking on the hardest job.”

The 2009-11 state budget retains arbitration as a way to settle teacher contracts, but eliminates the controversial qualified economic offer provisions under which school boards avoided arbitration by offering 3.8 percent annual compensation increases.

That includes fringe benefits such as pension contributions and health insurance premiums. While most teacher contracts provide seniority increases for continued service in a school district, there has been little money available for significant pay increases.

The state budget pinch means many districts will receive less state money. But revenue caps will remain in place, limiting what may come from property taxes. Referendums to exceed those revenue limits face tough hurdles in the current economy.

Many school board members like the QEO provision. The status quo, whatever the topic, always has a lot of friends.

Critics contend the revised teacher arbitration law will have dire consequences. Arbitrators previously had to give local economic conditions the “greatest weight.” The new law changes that to just “weight.”

Doyle said he hopes creative approaches to compensation result from the change.

But he said: “The real decision isn’t going to be made so much by what happens in arbitration. It’s going to be made by what happens at the bargaining table.”

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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