The Financial Unpredictability of Pay-for-Performance

money-73341_640By Nick McDaniels – There are very few things that are predictable in education any more. And budgeting for education in a rapidly changing education regulatory climate is becoming increasingly challenging. Perhaps this is why it is so perplexing that some of America’s most cash-strapped districts — often big, urban school districts –have shifted or have tried to shift to pay-for-performance structures of teacher compensation (I work in one of these districts).

And while innovation in the areas of educator compensation may be important in a nation of shifting priorities, creating more financial instability seems far from wise. Where pay-for-performance structures exist, districts struggle mightily from year to year to predict the coming year’s expenses. This hamstrings programmatic funding streams, and, in turn, creates more unpredictability regarding which services can actually be offered to students.

It seems to me now, in fact it always has, that creating a predictable system of school funding could cut down on highly criticized levels of inefficiency in public schools. So why do school systems pursue such pay-for-performance structures? Perhaps the school reform bug bites even the wisest of chief financial officers. I will affirmatively say that if I was in charge, on either the labor or the management side, I would bargain for the most predictable staffing pay scale possible so that the district’s year-to-year programmatic expenses could be far more intentional and calculated.

But alas, I’m not in charge. I’m just a teacher hoping I get my pay-for-performance raise that is now months overdue.

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