ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL: Teacher bonuses dependent on union OK

For the first time, teachers rated “exemplary” under New Mexico’s controversial grading system are in line to get bonuses of up to $10,000 next year.

But there’s a catch: Approval by a union – if the teacher is covered by one – would be required before the money could be doled out by districts or charter schools.

And union leaders say the evaluation system for teachers is too flawed to be the basis of compensation. In fact, the head of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation says they will not participate.

Executives under Gov. Susana Martinez argue that every exemplary teacher ought to get the award, as part of a multipronged effort to keep high-performing educators in the profession.

Debate over accepting the bonuses will unfold district by district across New Mexico, as local union groups decide for themselves how to respond.

The new program is possible because state lawmakers agreed this year to include $5 million for it in the state budget – at Martinez’s request – but with the provision requiring union approval.

Lida Alikhani, spokeswoman for the state Public Education Department, said the union language was inserted into the bill at the eleventh hour.

“Bottom line: Every teacher should have the opportunity to earn this award,” she said.

Union leaders, by contrast, say the state’s evaluation system is too unreliable to be tied to financial incentives, and they object philosophically to merit pay.

“Quite frankly, we think this provision is insulting to teachers,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association New Mexico. “It sort of implies that teachers are holding something back and will do more if they get more money.”

The negotiating teams for each NEA local union group are expected to decide how to respond to the bonus offer, perhaps after surveying their members.

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