City district may offer bonuses to attract teachers to lower-performing schools

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The Pittsburgh Public Schools' top academic officer last night said she's interested in exploring the possibility of offering financial incentives to help attract more high-performing teachers to low-performing schools.

Linda Lane, deputy superintendent for instruction, assessment and accountability, said there might be federal grant money available to support the initiative. But she cautioned that the idea is in its infancy.

Many urban districts have a difficult time getting their most effective teachers at their most troubled schools.

Under many collective bargaining agreements, the more seniority teachers have, the more influence they have over where they teach. Experienced and effective teachers often transfer away from troubled schools, forcing districts to assign newer faculty members to students needing a master's help.

"It's not an easy issue to address," Dr. Lane said.

School board member Randall Taylor raised the staffing issue at an Education Committee meeting on the district's six-year strategic plan, which must be filed with the state this month.

The plan outlines strategies for improving academic achievement and for equitable distribution of district resources, but recruiting top teachers to low-performing schools wasn't a specified goal. Mr. Taylor suggested establishing a "grow your own" program to train teachers for troubled schools.

Dr. Lane said she's hoping to discuss the possibility of financial incentives with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. She said she'd also like to consult the PFT's parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, to see what it might know about incentive programs in other districts.

She said it's too early to say whether the district would give bonuses to highly effective teachers who agree to teach at low-performing schools or whether bonus amounts would be based on the teachers' success at struggling schools. Either approach would represent a break with tradition.

As is typical of teacher contracts, Pittsburgh's agreement with the union bases educators' pay on factors such as education level and years of service, not performance or school assignment. There is at least one exception: Teachers at the city's eight accelerated learning academies receive extra money because of their schools' extended calendar.

The district already is using a five-year, $7.4 million grant to pay performance bonuses to principals districtwide.

Each principal is eligible for up to $12,000 annually, and principals at the academies are eligible for an additional $10,000 annually for special duties at those schools, most of which are located in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Bonuses are based largely on student performance.

Money wouldn't necessarily be the only way to recruit teachers to certain schools.

"Leadership matters a lot," Dr. Lane said, noting teachers gravitate to principals with a supportive, collaborative management style.

Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548.


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