Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 10, 2007

Merit plays a role at the ballot box

Merit’s stock is the rise.

Merit is an important topic in the Gilroy Unified School District. Just before he left for Pasadena, former Superintendent Edwin Diaz began working with Michelle Nelson, president of the Gilroy Teachers Association, to explore “alternative compensation.” The plan under discussion included bonuses based on job performance – in other words, merit pay.

Around the same time, Diaz negotiated 7-percent raises that were not based on individual job performance for nonunion district administrators, sparking controversy. At least one school board member has promised to try to tie future administrator raises to individual job performance – in other words, merit pay.

I’d like to see merit pay addressed in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, where my kids attend school. Unfortunately, the one MHUSD trustee with whom I’ve talked about merit pay doesn’t think it merits a spot on the district’s priority list. That’s too bad, but depending on the results of the 2008 presidential election, it might change.

That’s because merit isn’t just a local topic, thanks to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Obama just told an audience of 9,000 National Education Association members that was “hostile to the idea” that he supports merit pay.

That takes guts.

Obama told the gathering, “… If you excel at helping your students achieve success, your success will be valued and rewarded as well.”

In other words, merit pay.

Obama continued, “… That’s how we’re going to close the achievement gap that exists in this country and that’s how we’re going to start treating teachers like the professionals you are.”

Treating teachers like professionals: That’s one advantage of merit pay that’s often overlooked, but I think it’s critical to improving our schools and to drawing the best and brightest to the profession.

Obama added, “I think there should be ways for us to work with the NEA, with teachers’ unions, to figure out a way to measure success. I want to work with teachers. I’m not going to do it to you, I’m going to do it with you.”

Obama also has a refreshing perspective on testing: “The goal of educational testing should be the same as medical testing – to diagnose a student’s needs so you can help address them. Tests … should be used as tools to help prepare our children to grow and compete in a knowledge economy.”

It’s early in the primary campaign season, but I have to admit, I’m warming more and more to Obama. I first became aware of him during the 2004 Democratic National Convention when I was blown away by his inspirational keynote speech.

The more I hear from Obama during this jump-started presidential primary season – such as his positions on education – the more I like him.

Still, with just under seven months until the Super Duper Tuesday primary on Feb. 5 that now includes California, lots of opportunities remain for candidates to make campaign-fatal mistakes, for new candidates to change the political calculus or for world events to intervene.

But less than four months remain until Gilroyans elect four City Council members, including the mayor, on Nov. 6, and as I watch the campaign unfold, I see that merit is at the heart of that election, too.

Of the many Gilroy City Hall controversies in recent years – secret retirements and double dipping, accusations of a rubber-stamp council, ongoing Bonfante Gardens drama, cooperation with the school district, the overpriced police station, unfixed sidewalks – the one that I’m guessing resonates most with Gilroyans is administrator pay.

Most Gilroyans understand that it’s ridiculous that City Council approved an administrator pay system that produces outrageous salary ranges and requires that all administrators earn 10 percent more than their peers in comparable cities. They know that we can’t all be above average.

They understand that it’s fair to both employees and taxpayers to reward nonunion administrators with raises that are based on individual job performance, instead of raises that are based on increases negotiated by the city’s union workers and salaries offered in other cities.

On Nov. 6, we’ll see if most Gilroyans agree that City Council candidates who don’t grasp that, or lacked the foresight to predict the consequences of approving the current administrator pay system or don’t put taxpayers’ best interests first don’t merit seats at the dais.

It’s shaping up to be a merit-based election season both locally and nationally. It merits my close attention, and yours too.



  1. […] know that I’ve been writing about my support for Barack Obama since July of last year, when I praised his speech in support of merit pay for public school teachers in front of a hostile audience, a meeting of […]

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