Some East Valley school districts may lose funding for performance pay for teachers and some staff next school year under the governor’s budget proposal announced earlier this month.

Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget includes slowly eliminating Career Ladder, which is used by 28 school districts in the state, including the Chandler and Mesa unified school districts and the Kyrene Elementary School District. The proposal would phase it down each year for the next five years, until it is zero.

The program began as a pilot in the mid-80s, and was capped to include only the current participating school districts in 1993. The Gilbert Unified School District filed a lawsuit in 2007 against the state regarding the program, claiming districts not allowed to join Career Ladder are at a disadvantage.

According to the Arizona Education Association website, the 28 participating school districts have about 31 percent of Arizona’s student population. They employ about 40 percent of Arizona’s teachers, though not all teachers participate in the program.

The incentive-based pay program is used in different ways.

The program has been a success for Chandler Unified School District, spokesman Terry Locke said, acknowledging that Career Ladder funding has been targeted by the Legislature before.

“It’s an ongoing battle every year,” he said. “There’s been a lot support for it. And it’s been a success for our district and other districts that have it. A number of districts use Career Ladder concepts for their Prop. 301 funds.”

Voters approved Proposition 301 in 2000 to increase taxes, with the funds going to education. An incentive-based pay program was part of the voter-approved measure.

In Mesa, some of the funding benefits all members of a school’s staff, assistant superintendent Gerrick Monroe said.

In the Mesa district. 68 percent of the district’s teachers are eligible to participate in Career Ladder. Last year, the state put a moratorium on adding any more teachers. The district budgeted $14.4 million in Career Ladder revenue this year, according to district CFO George Zeigler. About 64 percent goes toward teacher’s working on Career Ladder goals, while 27 percent pays for incentives for all teachers, administrators and support staff in the district who meet annual goals.

Of the rest, 5.2 percent pays for professional development, including the district’s summer All Kids Are Gifted program, and 3.7 percent pays for administrative costs.

“Career Ladder is much more than an incentive program for teachers,” Rene Paschal, director of professional development, said in an e-mail. “Most Career Ladder teachers will say that the professional processes embedded in the Career Ladder program (collaboration, accountability, professional reflection) have substantially impacted them in a positive manner that can’t be measured economically.”

Dawn Koberstein, president of the Chandler Education Association and a 16-year teacher, agreed that it rewards good teaching. Participating teachers have to track student growth as part of their requirement to get the funds.

“They talk so much about, ‘Let’s reward those teachers who do what is necessary and best for kids,’” she said. “Yet you’re going to cut the program that does just that?”

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