Most of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' task forces have wrapped up their work, with reports due later this month. But one is just gearing up. Welcome to Season Four of "CMS employees study better ways to get paid."
Season One: Performance Pay debuted under Superintendent Peter Gorman, with teachers invited to contribute to a long-term plan to shift all employees to a pay system based on performance. It began with studies showing the current teacher pay scale, based on longevity and credentials, has little to do with rewarding effectiveness. It quickly exploded into controversy over testing, value-added ratings and a legislative push that many teachers saw as an attempt by Gorman to go behind their backs. The dramatic season finale featured Gorman's 2011 resignation, as he moved on to a job in private industry.
Season Two: Talent Effectiveness brought the mild-mannered interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh assuring employees that the lack of money for rewards was actually a good thing, creating a pressure-free environment for a new group of teachers to study effective teaching. Susan Varga, a middle-school math teacher, signed on to a year-long advisory post, while many remained skeptical. That season ended as expected, with Hattabaugh returning to Florida and a new superintendent taking over.
By the time Heath Morrison introduced Season Three: Strategic Compensation, the ongoing saga was getting national viewers. Another group of educators signed up to help craft a plan for revising pay in a way that would be meaningful and -- unlike the many pilot programs CMS has tried -- sustainable. They aimed toward a March 1 deadline for sending their plan to state officials. With less than a week to go, some of those teachers told the school board how delighted they were that Morrison was really listening to them. But there was a plot twist: CMS had decided not to submit a state plan after all.
When I talked to Morrison recently about his first year, he said that because there was no state money to support a new strategy, “I didn’t feel a need to rush this.” His top staff and the educators who helped create the plan are continuing to review it, he said, but so far neither employees nor the public have seen results. He said the latest compensation task force, which begins its work this summer, will incorporate that work, and all members of the past panel are invited to stay on board.
I talked to a couple of teachers who served on last year's task force, and they voiced a mix of confusion and optimism. "He may not be going as fast as some people would like," said task force member Michael Pillsbury, a math teacher at Randolph Middle, "but I think he's on the right track."
I'm not sure what's left to study. As Morrison is quick to note, the lack of state money for even a bare-bones raise puts a damper on brainstorming better ways to reward employees.
At the very least, we can surely anticipate a new name for the project. And we can count on a new cast: Morrison recently named his second new human resources director in seven months, and Chief Operating Officer Millard House, who spearheaded last year's strategic compensation study, just announced he's leaving CMS.