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Published: Thursday, 3/10/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Ohio foes ponder merit pay's fairness

Bill cuts teacher seniority as factor

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

The Ohio House is conducting hearings on Senate Bill 5. The Ohio House is conducting hearings on Senate Bill 5.
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COLUMBUS — How do you judge the worth of teachers?

Senate Bill 5, the controversial collective-bargaining bill now being heard in the Ohio House, would remove automatic longevity and step increases from the pay structure of teachers and other public employees and mandates that future raises be linked to merit.

But what exactly a merit system would look like is one item preserved for the negotiating table.

"We are going to pass a bill — and there's no doubt in my mind we're going to pass this bill very shortly — without any real definition of merit pay'' said Rep. Bob Hagan (D., Youngstown), a member of the House Commerce and Labor Committee that is considering the bill.

"How do you judge the performance of a teacher, the results of the classroom, without taking into consideration the social struggles of these kids?'' he asked.

Rep. Nickie Antonio (D., Lakewood), a former special education teacher, questioned how a teacher of special-needs students would be judged in comparison to other teachers.

"That's the million-dollar question,'' said John Scheu, superintendent of Hardin-Houston Local Schools in Shelby County. "I don't think there's an easy answer to that. Otherwise, we'd have a merit pay system now.''

While the idea still has to be fleshed out, Mr. Scheu told the committee he likes the concept of a merit pay system that rewards teachers on their performance.

The Statehouse was quiet Wednesday as the House committee resumed hearings on Senate Bill 5. The hearing room was rarely more than half full, a sharp contrast to Tuesday when some 3,200 protestors filled the Statehouse and its grounds during Gov. John Kasich's State of the State Address.

The bill mustered just enough votes for passage, 17-16, in the Senate last week with six Republicans joining all 10 of the chamber's Democrats in opposition. The House committee hearings are expected to continue for two more weeks before the bill reaches the full chamber where Republicans outnumber Democrats 59-40.

Senate Bill 5 would outlaw strikes by all public employees, would limit topics of discussion at the negotiating table to wages and terms and conditions of employment, allow government employers to implement a single health-care plan covering all its public employees, and require those workers to pay at least 15 percent of the cost.

It would also eliminate binding arbitration as a means of bringing final resolution to contract disputes involving police and firefighters, replacing it with a system of mediation, fact-finding, and public hearings for all public employees. That process would end with a public vote choosing between the final best offers of the two sides by the legislative body of the government employer which had a place on one side of the negotiating table.

The legislation would also remove seniority as the sole factor when determining the order of employee layoffs and require that merit be a factor when it comes to awarding raises. Among those things that must be considered when it comes to teacher pay are the level of license a teacher holds, whether the teacher is deemed a "highly qualified teacher,'' the performance of the students in that classroom, and the results of a teacher's performance evaluation or peer review.

Ms. Antonio, the former teacher, questioned whether the elimination of seniority as the driving factor when it comes to layoffs could lead to age discrimination against teachers who, because of their longevity, also have the biggest paychecks.

"Some of those teachers are at the top end of the scale,'' Superintendent Scheu said. "There are teachers you wouldn't want to go even it they have 40 to 45 years [of experience]. ... That doesn't necessarily say you have to exclude seniority as a reason. You can include other reasons besides seniority.''

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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