For the second year in a row, the state has proved that its experimental program paying bonuses to teachers and staff at certain schools is unfair -- at least in Anchorage.
The bonus program, mandated by the 2006 Legislature, calls for giving an extra $1,000 to $5,500 to each staff person at certain schools, based on their students' test scores.
The basic theory -- rewarding teachers and staff if the whole school shifts student performance up a level or two -- might be fine. Unfortunately, Alaska's law tends to reward staff at schools that started with advanced students.
All that schools with advanced students have to do win the prize is maintain the students at the same achievement level.
Staff at schools with lower student test scores have to push the entire school to a higher level to be eligible for monetary rewards.
So in practice, in Anchorage, three out of five bonus-winning schools announced by the state Friday were alternative programs that perennially enroll top students with highly motivated parents -- Chugach Optional, Northern Lights ABC and Eagle Academy Charter School.
Last year, half of the eight Anchorage schools where staff got bonuses were alternative schools, including Chugach Optional.
And this does what to motivate teachers with struggling students?
"To us, it was a real morale buster, and it was divisive," said Anchorage Superintendent Carol Comeau. "I think they need to eliminate it. There are other ways to support outstanding teachers."
Last year in Fairbanks, the reward handed out to one local school provoked widespread community criticism, according to a Daily News article published at the time. Critics were upset because they thought the bonuses failed to recognize hard-working teachers in other schools. And they were offended that the payments seemed to imply that the winners needed a bonus to work as hard as they did, Fairbanks school officials said.
The Alaska bonus program is misguided. The next Legislature should kill it.
Memo to Alaska Legislature:
Lord willing, my family members and I will be recipients of $1,200 apiece in energy assistance this fall. Thanks. I'd like you to know that I feel no sense of entitlement to this money; some of you seem to have worried that, once paid, voters will demand payment every year as a kind of electoral extortion.
You won't be able to prove it by me. I'll be happy to have the money in 2008, whereby I shall be as a river unto my creditors. To tell you the truth, I've been counting on it. And I'm delighted that you chose $1,200 over $500, but I've got no expectations for 2009.
I won't be using all of what Gov. Palin called the resource rebate for energy bills. I like that freedom, that chance to wonder about the word "fungible," one of those words that I didn't grow up with but have heard people use since I joined the ADN editorial board. Even though the sound of the word suggests something you'd use to soak up an oil spill, I understand it means that even if don't use the money directly for energy bills, it frees up other money to fill the gas tank. Sixty bucks this afternoon, and that was only for three-quarters full. But you've heard all that, and have your own tanks to fill.
Heard one gentleman at a bus stop say the extra cash might help him pay for his and his wife's 25th wedding anniversary celebration. That's not on most lawmakers' fuel bill lists, but don't begrudge him. Remember fungibility, and if you know the couple, send them a card.
Speaking only for myself, you done good. But I won't ask you to do it again.
-- Frank Gerjevic