Austin district officals say no to Q Comp

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Austin Public Schools doesn’t like to gamble on money.

District officials, who’re preparing for whatever budget cuts the state legislature makes to its education aid, are looking at all sorts of monetary solutions to keep itself afloat and ahead of the financial curve. One of the options isn’t the state’s Q Comp program.

The Quality Compensation Program is an initiative where more state aid is given to districts which put certain program components into teacher’s contracts. It doesn’t so much change teacher’s contracts as it restructures them. About 50 school districts across the state are currently part of Q Comp, which means they get up to an extra $260 per student.

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District officials are wary of where that money comes from, however. According to the state Department of Education, $169 out of that $260 per student comes from state aid and the other $91 comes from levies which must be approved by the school board.

“The critical component here is the fact that it really doesn’t necessarily improve student achievement,” said David Krenz, the district’s superintendent. “What it is looking at is staff development and changing salary schedules.”

Before Krenz became superintendent here, he was employed at La Crescent-Hokah Public Schools, which was one of the pilot school districts testing Q Comp. While Q Comp components significantly changed during the pilot program, there were plenty of growing pains and the district had to overhaul much of its contract structure.

In order to implement all of the changes, which include things like an alternative pay schedule, teacher evaluation and observation done by more than one evaluator and job-embedded professional development, it would actually cost the district more than the extra money the state would give. The district already has a large focus in staff development. In addition, taxes would rise to meet the required $91 per student which would come from levy funds.

District officials have looked at the Q Comp program before. In 2005, school administrators started work on a Q Comp application, which fizzled out as the program progressed. Mary Burroughs, the district’s human resource director, recently asked the district’s teachers association whether they were pursuing a Q Comp application, as an application can only pass if there’s a supermajority consensus among a district’s teachers. The teacher’s union told Burroughs it wasn’t interested in pursuing Q Comp.

“There’s really no conclusive data that Q Comp is beneficial,” said Brad Anderson, the president of the APS Teacher’s Association, giving his opinion on Q Comp.

“There really are so many programs that schools can look into to improve student performance. Even today there’s not conclusive evidence that it works.”

While the state Department of Education released a report last year claiming a connection between rising student achievement and schools that implemented Q Comp, district officials claim the study only showed districts improving in areas it had fallen behind in, which a district lists in its Q Comp application.

“When you focus on an area, there is student achievement,” Krenz said. “It’s not across the board evidence, (that) total student achievement is going up.”

One of the largest reasons district officials aren’t looking into Q Comp is the general feeling amongst educators that the incoming legislature may drastically change or even cut Q Comp funding in order to balance a projected $6 billion budget deficit in state funds.

“If you’re going to put all the work into this, it’s not something that can be implemented quickly,” Burroughs said.

Since state education aid is already up in the air, district officials don’t want to risk counting on additional state aid that could disappear within the next few years.

“Right now, there are more negatives than positives,” Krenz said.