Budget & Tax , Education

Jay Chilton | May 15, 2017

Stroud Public Schools not waiting for legislature to raise teacher pay

Jay Chilton

By Jay Chilton, CIJ

Teacher pay raises have been a hotly debated issue for several years at the Oklahoma state Capitol, with multiple legislators proposing various methods for funding the increase. Currently, House Bill 1114, a phased-in teacher pay raise bill by Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, awaits consideration by the full Senate, but funding for the bill remains uncertain.

Stroud Public Schools is not waiting. The district is using local funds to raise pay in an attempt to ensure high academic performance in its schools.

“For three years, coming up on four years now, we’ve put together an academic performance incentive plan for our teachers,” said Superintendent Joe Van Tuyl. “It’s tied to test scores and classroom performance.”

He said his district rewards all employees (with the exception of the superintendent) by way of pay incentives tied to the district’s average ACT score.

“It’s been very good for the morale of our teachers,” he said. “It’s been effective … in achieving the goals to improve our A through F standing as a school. The purpose behind it is to provide a reward and support for a job well done rather than a threat.

“That’s our management approach here. There’s nothing perfect, but we try to emphasize opportunity rather than some kind of negative outcome in everything we do here.”

Stroud is not alone. A recent report by James Neal of the Enid News and Eagle (“School districts getting creative to boost salaries”) outlines strategies being employed by other school districts in Oklahoma to raise teacher pay without legislative action.

Stroud Public Schools uses a bonus-style merit pay plan, paid to teachers every year when certain criteria are met rather than issuing permanent salary increases. Van Tuyl believes Stroud’s merit-pay plan, rather than simply perpetual pay raises, encourages continued high performance in the classroom every year.

In addition, the Stroud Board of Education recently voted to raise base pay for teachers in the district by $5,000 across the board beginning in the 2017-18 school year. The increase throughout the district constitutes a 12.9 percent increase over the previous Stroud pay scale. Support staff will also receive a 12.9 percent raise.

“We’re a little different than some other districts in the state,” Van Tuyl explained. “We’re off the state aid because we have a large ad valorem (tax) base. When we started the teacher incentive plan, we decided to utilize some of that (funding) to make a difference in our approach to education.”

Van Tuyl said he is pleased by the response from school employees. “They’re excited, no question,” he said. “It will make a difference in their lives, no question. I think that was the point.

“We want to be aggressive about education. Many times we talk about being aggressive in sports and gaining victory from those sorts of things. Well, we want to be aggressive about academics as well and we believe this is a demonstration of that. We want to be able to recruit great teachers; we want to be able to retain great teachers.”

Van Tuyl said he can point to tangible benefits to students.

“Our A through F standing, across all of our schools has improved,” he said. “It’s not exactly where we want it, that’s a little bit of a moving target. I’ve been one to stress that there’s more than the A through F grade. We’re building a good citizen. We’re building a good structure for people to find opportunities in their lives beyond our schools and to be productive citizens.

“The other thing is that we focus on our ACT pretty hard. … Our ACT has improved and our ability to score above a 20 composite (score) has been pretty strong over the past 10 years.”

According to state Department of Education data, Stroud students have maintained an average composite ACT score at or above 20 since 2012. In the past 10 years, the average score has dipped below 20 twice—to 19.7 in 2011 and to 19.5 in 2009.

“So much of what we’re doing is about attitude, positive approaches, and a good morale, to have a good productive and positive academic climate here every day,” Van Tuyl said. “We think if you put the right process in place, that the end result will come from that.

“We’re proud of what we’re doing.”

Jay Chilton

Independent Journalist

Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.

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