Story #4 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Witt Presents “Back of Envelope” District Compensation Plan, Rams It Through Ignoring Teacher Input

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #4:

What Happened: In August 2014, Ken Witt proposed a new district-wide teacher compensation plan. This wasn’t consistent with the usual way district-wide compensation plans are typically proposed, because (as you might gather by now is common) Witt just presented the plan with little explanation or discussion about how it was developed. The Superintendent had little to say about it. Teachers hadn’t heard of it. He appeared to have developed it with his attorney. Chalkbeat, in the article, noted that the proposal “surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.”

The compensation package tied teacher salaries to performance, and when the teachers objected to the proposal, WNW gave a pre-ordained response: “those teachers just don’t want pay for performance.”

Among the problems with the proposal:

  • As explained above, teachers had no forewarning about the proposal;
  • Witt did not explain how he arrived at the proposal;
  • The proposal ignored a costly neutral fact-finder’s strong recommendation against allowing a “pilot” evaluation system to be used in determining teacher raises, especially after teachers were told that the pilot system was not going to be calculated into salaries for the first year;
  • Witt clamped down on public comment about it, and seemed to fully ignore teacher and board minority input.

At the following meeting, WNW passed the proposal 3-2, without an explanation of how it was derived.

The proposal did include raising minimum salaries (thereby allowing WNW to boast about “raising teacher salaries”) and did include raises for most teachers. However, the raises were mostly quite minimal, especially given that the economy was finally in recovery after years of pay freezes.

More complete coverage of “what happened” is here:

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

GOLDEN – Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.” Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

Why It Matters: Transparency. Respect. Good Governance. Working Environment. Politics.

Transparency: Once again, we see WNW parading their “transparency” (look, see, board meetings are being live-streamed!) while coming up with major decisions (compensation for thousands) behind the scenes. Not explaining the rationale or the merits of such a system was about as anti-transparent a decision as we can imagine.

Respect. If you respect your employees, you explain to them why their compensation system is as it is. At the very least, you listen to their complaints. When neither of those things is done, you don’t feel respected.

Good Governance. Once again, we see major decisions being made behind closed doors, without the input of the other board members, and very likely in violation of Sunshine Laws.

Working Environment. Teachers don’t need a whole lot, but they do need two-way communication. It was evident that WNW didn’t read that part (or many others) of the business management textbook. Performance goes down when that communication is shut off. If performance has stayed reasonably high, it’s because teachers have worked hard to overcome the working environment that devalues them so much.

Politics. Remember the idea of a non-partisan school board? It’s hard but we need to try. It’s evident to us that this was the plan all along:

  1. Initiate a pay-for-performance plan without teacher input;
  2. When teachers object to problems with the plan and the lack of opportunity for input, use political jiu-jitsu and say “they just don’t want to have pay for performance” despite that not really being the case with most teachers, or the main concern.
  3. Tie the supposed hostility to pay for performance to union control.

It’s a simple political calculus. Problem is, it doesn’t work. Most teachers are open to pay for performance, and they had already started working on well-thought-out plans to implement such a system. Witt just manipulated it for political ends.

When teachers from two schools walked out the day after the proposal was approved, the predictable response from Witt was just “they don’t want pay for performance.” It was convenient politics.

This incident made it so high on our list with our voters, we think, because it affected so many and contained so many elements of the reasoning behind the recall.  Witt playing politics, acting secretly, being disrespectful, and creating a hostile work environment. And Newkirk and Williams going along with it. And Brad Miller coaching them to toe the line the whole way. This wasn’t leadership, it’s sloppy, dangerous, demoralizing puppetry that has a real impact on many lives in our community.