So many teachers showed up to the Shelby County Schools (SCS) board meeting Tuesday night to protest a proposed performance-based compensation plan that attendees were being asked to watch the meeting on TVs in a separate area of the administration building.
During a nearly hour-long public comment period in a standing-only room, teacher after teacher expressed outrage at the new plan, which provides for annual raises based on performance. The issue for many teachers is that performance is determined by their Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) score, which ranks from level one (lowest) to level five (highest). Those with level one and two scores will not receive raises, but teachers with level three scores will get an $800 raise. Teachers with level four will receive $1,000, and level five teachers will get $1,200.
The TEM scores are partially determined by student surveys and a school's overall standing, and some teachers don't think those factors should judge their individual performances.
"I've had no cost of living adjustment in four years, and my health insurance has quadrupled in 10 years," said Ethan Randall, a teacher a Kingsbury High School. "And the current TEM process is entirely subjective."
As teachers took turns at the podium, opponents of the compensation plan held up signs and cheered. But when a handful of teachers expressed support for the new plan, the opposing teachers in the crowd booed, leading SCS Board Chair Teresa Jones to chide them. She asked security to remove anyone who interrupted the speakers "by any means necessary."
One of those supporters was Becky Taylor, a teacher at Idlewild. She called the compensation plan equitable and cited the fact that Memphis teachers make higher salaries than teachers in Nashville.
"In most professions, performance-based pay seems rational," Taylor said.
After the public comment period, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson defended the compensation plan, and he claimed that many of the plan's opponents were spreading misinformation.
"When we look at overall performance of this district, we have got to do something different," Hopson said. "We have got to drastically improve achievement."
Hopson said he'd heard some teachers complain that SCS could only afford to fund the new plan if the number of level five teachers was lowered. But he said that wasn't true. He said 80 percent of SCS' teachers were currently at levels four and five, and the new system was based on those numbers.
"It is also absolutely false that there's a plan to rate teachers low," Hopson said. "We want teachers to be evaluated fairly."
Board member Kevin Woods told the teachers in the room that the board is listening to their concerns with the new plan, and he said he'd like to see the board develop a more comprehensive approach to evaluating teacher performance. But he agreed with Hopson that something has to be done to improve overall achievement.
"I heard one teacher say that Memphis was the highest paid district in the state, but we also need to be the highest performing district," Woods said.