District, teachers move toward performance-based pay

by Kurt Nesbitt
Contributing Writer
Teachers and officials in Elk River public schools are trying to move the district toward performance-based pay for teachers.
The Elk River Area School Board on Monday night unanimously approved an alternative pay system contract between the district and the union that represents the district’s teachers. Board Member Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka was absent.

The system, known as Quality Compensation — or Q Comp — was established by the state Legislature in 2005. It is a voluntary program that allows local districts and exclusive representatives of the teachers to design and collectively bargain a plan that meets the components of the law. It gives districts money to encourage performance-based pay for teachers.

But there’s one catch — the Elk River district can’t start the program until the Legislature grants more funding, and they’re not granting any more funding right now, according to District 728 officials.

The Minnesota Department of Education said that while there is currently no funding available for additional Q Comp programs in the 2017-18 school year, interested districts or charter schools can apply to join the waiting list. Elk River teachers and administrators starting working on the Q Comp application in fall. They submitted it to the state on March 15, but the Minnesota Department of Education wanted more clarity, said Tim Caskey, the district’s executive director of human resources. He said the district’s application is 17th in the line for the department’s approval.

“We’re simply waiting on an answer as to whether or not the state will fund the program,” he told board members.
Elk River teachers have ratified the memorandum, which Caskey described as “a critical part of the application.” The agreement will last through the 2018-19 school year and has to be voted on every year after that.

Director Gregg Peppin asked if Q Comp funding is likely and whether or not it’s a continual award.

Caskey said that in the past, the Legislature has asked the Department of Education for a number of how many districts wanted Q Comp funding and how much money the districts wanted, and have funded it that way several times. Q Comp funding was threatened in the Legislature a couple times, but the department has always funded the program, Caskey said.
“We feel pretty comfortable,” Caskey told Peppin.

He said Elk River’s Q Comp program would cost about $3.4 million in total, with about $800,000 coming from the school district’s levy.

Caskey said the contract will be null and void if the state Legislature pulls Q Comp funding.

Greg Hein, executive director of business services, said the district’s levy is not voter-approved. He said the Q Comp contract represented a 2 percent rise in the levy.

The Minnesota Department of Education said Q-Comp programs serve approximately half of the students in Minnesota public schools.