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Measure Opening Door to Teacher Merit Pay Passes Ohio House Committee

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. ideastream file photo by Brian Bull
The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. ideastream file photo by Brian Bull

State law spells out the minimum a teacher should get paid and then creates a salary schedule throughout that teacher’s career. A bill passed by the House Education committee gets rid of that specific schedule, and instead requires local school districts to come up with their own systems.

Republican State Rep. Gerald Stebelton of Lancaster is the chair.

“Any salary schedule that a local district has, if they want to keep it, they can keep it," Stebelton said. "If they want to negotiate with their unions for a salary schedule, they can do that. We’re not changing any contracts as they were written today.”

Stebelton said it’s time to revamp Ohio’s schools and allow for systems that reward good teachers.

"We need to face the reality that there are teachers that are less qualified than other teachers," he said. "They’re not as well-trained, they’re not as good in teaching. And having the same salary schedule for a second grade teacher who is not a good teacher and the one who is an excellent teacher is not fair to the one who is an excellent teacher.

Scott DiMauro with the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, disagreed.

“Ohio needs to focus on ways to pay committed educators more, not make it easier to pay them less," he said.

DiMauro said teachers must be able to depend on each other and work together, a relationship that he said doesn’t grow if teachers are pitted against each other for raises.

“When you introduce merit-based systems into the equation, what you’re doing is you’re creating incentives for competition rather than cooperation between teachers," he said. "And that doesn’t really seem to help students.”

But supporters of the bill, including Republican State Rep. Andrew Brenner of Powell, believe that getting rid of the current pay standards will mean good things for teachers.

“I think that it’s an artificial price control," Brenner said. "I think actually it is keeping wages and salaries stagnant without allowing the flexibility to pay good teachers more money and to work to try and eliminate bad teachers.”

Opponents of the bill sparred with Republican backers during the committee hearing.

State Rep. John Becker of Cincinnati said he spent about 30 years in the private sector. After Phil Hayes of the Columbus Education Association delivered testimony against the provision, Becker asked this question:

“What makes teachers unique as professionals that they can’t have or live on merit pay the way the rest of us do?”

Hayes said there are many variables in play while judging a teacher’s performance. He used the example of a student who was dumped right before taking a test.

“I expected ‘accelerated’ or ‘advanced,’ and she got a 399 because her boyfriend came up to her five minutes before my class started, before that test started, and broke up with her," Hayes said. "So do you think I should be graded for that? That I should be paid for that?”

Hayes also expressed frustration at the timing of the provision. The change was thrown into an existing House bill last week after it already received six hearings.

It passed out of committee along party lines. The bill is expected to go before the entire House for a floor vote this week.

nick.castele@ideastream.org | 216-916-6288