Teacher Salary Scale Adjustment or Merit pay?

Response to the News-Journals “Cut and Paste” Dallas Morning News Editorial on the proposed $5,000 pay increase for a specific block of teachers, printed 1-30-19.


The good news is preliminary budgets show that Texas lawmakers in the House and Senate want to make good on their promises to send billions of dollars more to public school districts in the state this session.

The state’s 5 million-plus students won’t have the best shot at success without the state making a bigger financial contribution, one that also lessens the burden on local taxpayers. The House budget includes $9 billion more, the Senate’s about $6 billion.

But we worry about the Senate’s proposal to spend $3.7 billion to give every teacher a $5,000 across-the-board raise. We’d be the first to say that keeping and attracting good teachers is the linchpin to student success. But the goal here should be to offer incentives that can get the best possible teachers in front of classrooms.

It’s very curious to me that the statements, “keeping and attracting good teachers is the linchpin to student success” and “But the goal here should be to offer incentives that can get the best possible teachers in front of classrooms” can be included in the same paragraph. These two goals have nothing to do with each other.

The concept of merit pay is not a new idea, nor one that has not been introduced into the campus setting before. It does not fit with the overriding main purpose of our profession, “providing a quality education to all children in Texas”. The real proposal being promoted here is paying the “good teachers” more money while encouraging the “bad teachers to exit the profession. For the legislature and some of the leading advocates for this process, it accomplishes two unstated goals. First, it ensures that the state will not have to pay more money into education for salaries. The “merit pay” awarded to the “good teachers” will be offset by the revolving door of first year teachers that will be replacing those that exit the profession. Those that exit will not be the “bad teachers” as described by proponents, but rather the true professionals that see the decay in the goal of teaching all students the best they can. Those that continue to “rise up the ladder” will be those that have successful strategies and are unwilling to share for fear of losing the extra compensation. That is not a prediction, it is history that I feel very strongly will repeat itself if and when this process is implemented.

In professional settings that are not tied to sales and commission pay, employees better themselves and increase their compensation based on their ability to perform AND their willingness to take on more responsibility within the company. That is in place in the public schools and it is a method of advancement for our educational community

The way to keep and attract good teachers is to pay them a wage commensurate with the degree and training they hold. The $5,000 investment would be a step towards making that more of a reality. This is not an “across the board raise.” It specifically leaves out librarians, counselors and nurses that have salaries tied to the teacher pay scale. It is not money tied to the state’s minimum pay scale. Therefore the legislature can (and will) cut off the funding in the next biennium and create an expectation that local districts will need to maintain the higher pay. Increasing the minimum pay scale by $5,000 would be a commitment that can be seen as support for attracting and keeping quality teachers in the classroom.

You can’t achieve the goal of getting the best possible teachers in front of the classroom if you can’t hire the number of teachers needed to fully staff the school! If it is just unacceptable for a journalist to think teachers need an increase in base pay, maybe they can support the idea of putting the $3.7 billion in the Foundation School Program (FSP) and allow the seven to nine locally elected officials make the discussions as to how the funds should be expended. Local Control of Local Schools, now that’s a novel idea!


We’ve long favored a merit-pay system based on performance. Dallas ISD has proved it can pay big dividends. The district’s once-controversial Teacher Excellence Initiative has proved it can help keep the vast majority of our most effective teachers working in our schools and, on average, give them the biggest raises. Tying money to performance works. Meanwhile, most of the teachers the district is losing are those who’ve shown poor performance under the system. We welcome those departures.

This entire paragraph is a DISD press release material that is not applicable to our East Texas schools. DISD has over 150 elementary schools and has gone to great efforts to promote the excellent performance of a hand full of campuses. They are quick to point out that ONE campus outperformed an elementary school in Highland Park ISD. There is no mention of the effect moving teachers had on the campuses vacated nor is there any mention of the fact that Dr. Hinojosa publically acknowledged that DISD cannot maintain this merit pay program without the state taking over the cost. There is no evidence that tying performance to pay “works” as stated above. The “performance” standard referenced is the STAAR/EOC testing program required by the State of Texas. To be clear, this required assessment system is not used and/or recognized as relevant by any post-secondary institutions, the US Military, any workforce organizations and it over tests Texas students even as compared to the US Department of Educations requirements.


More important, TEI and the district’s Accelerating Campus Excellence plan, which teams the best teachers with students who need them most, have been instrumental in dramatically reducing the number of Dallas ISD campuses rated “improvement required” by the state.

As an East Texas Newspaper, I would think it important to promote ideas and programs that fit your readership. The programs used as examples of excellence in this editorial cannot be duplicated in this region. Speaking for my district at White Oak, I already have the very best elementary teachers in my district teaching at the highest need elementary campus in my district. (I only have one elementary campus as opposed to DISD’s near 150 elementary campuses) The vast majority of our districts are in the same position. The vast majority of our campuses and district are not rated IR and should not be cast into that light by a copy and paste editorial.


We can’t afford to go back to days when teachers got raises just for showing up.

The training, professional development and employment appraisal system currently in place for the improvement and evaluation of classroom teacher performance is more rigorous than that of many, if not all, professions currently in place. I suggest doing some research into the T-TESS evaluation system currently in place across the state. The editor needs to research the topics chosen for publication and make sure the information is credible. To imply that teachers get a raise for “just showing up” is highly insulting and indicates the position of a very uninformed author. The very modest increases given to teachers over a twenty-year period cannot even be called a “cost of living” raise but it does help stave off the effects of inflation. Is this the manner in which the News-Journal promotes the idea of getting the best and brightest to enter into the teaching profession?


Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told us that — unlike previous years — he’s more optimistic that this session will do more for public schools because GOP leaders Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and new speaker Dennis Bonner have said fixing state funding system is a priority. And it’s encouraging that the budgets from both chambers include property tax relief provisions.

How many times in your personal or professional budgeting experience have you set a goal of putting more revenue in the spending side of your budget while entertaining the goal of substantially cutting the revenue source used to generate that increase? To date, the conversation has been about all the things we are going to do with the new money proposed for education in the House and the Senate. The focus is on the proposed expenditures and not the proposed revenues or how they will be generated. Texas ranks 33rd in per capita tax burden for 2018. (https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/)

The citizens in 32 states pay a higher tax rate than we do. This mantra of “we need tax relief” is not evidenced by the results of the voters when it comes to funding schools. Tax Rate Elections and Bond Referendums are approved all over the state 90% of the time or more. That is more of an indicator the Texas Voters are very supportive of Texas Public Schools and they are willing to pay for that support.


We share his hope that lawmakers factor in provisions for urban districts that are educating a majority of poor kids. About 90 percent of Dallas ISD’s students are poor but because of its rising property values, the district has become a “recapture” district that has to send millions back to the state.

There is no equity in the Texas Public School funding system without Re-capture. The idea that schools should see great financial gains simply by geographic location is not sustainable. I believe the process can be improved and there can be a certain level of relief based on better ways of determining the dollars needed to fund equity. But short of a statewide income tax, there is no better way to make funds available to equitably fund all districts in a manner that is beneficial to all students. Consumption taxes will not generate the revenue required. The aforementioned state income tax idea will get you tarred and feathered in just about any location in the state. Funding schools through property tax is, from what I can tell, still our best option to serve our students well.


We’ve been at this stage before — good intentions and a promising start ended with Austin not sending enough financial help to the state’s districts. This time, lawmakers can’t let their political battling keep them from doing what’s right for Texas students.

I couldn’t agree more.

We have been here before. During every election cycle and at the start of every legislative session we hear the cries for better support for our Texas Public Schools.

The focus on Public Education in both chambers and the Governor’s office is reason for increased optimism. Optimism that has to be guarded for now and tempered by the knowledge that 140 days can be a long time and much can change when the behind the scenes conversations begin.

Thank you for taking the time to review my thoughts and concerns. With 38 years of service to the students of our Texas Public Schools, I just felt the need to respond to this editorial from an East Texas Educator’s perspective.