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Pay plan gives peek at budget

Governor's education proposal counts on changes in teacher pay

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty, determined to revamp the way teachers are paid, will ask the Legislature to give financial incentives to school districts that abandon the traditional pay system. It's part of a budget plan that also would increase basic school aid for the first time since 2002.

Pawlenty came to an elementary school in this northern Twin Cities suburb Thursday to outline his education proposals and provide the first peek at the two-year state budget he will release in a couple of weeks.

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The items Pawlenty proposed would require $350 million in new funding. The state faces a $700 million budget deficit, and Pawlenty didn't say where the money would come from. But in the past, he has suggested he'll look for savings in state health and welfare programs for low-income Minnesotans.

Compensation overhaul

A key plank in his plan is the teacher compensation overhaul. Pawlenty said he would seek to establish a $60 million pool districts could tap on a first-come, first-serve basis. To qualify for an extra $150 per student in state funding, a district would have to create a pay model based on performance. It would take into account skill development and student achievement, for example.

Most teacher contracts now rely on a "steps and lanes" approach in which pay rises with seniority and college credits attained.

"We can all do a better job as a state and as a nation by treating teachers as professionals rather than as assembly line workers from the 1940s," Pawlenty said.

Judy Schaubach, president of the Education Minnesota teachers union, said she's awaiting more details of the pay plan before endorsing or rejecting it. But, she said, basing it too much on student performance would be problematic. "There have to be realistic ways to look at this question of student performance. It has to be fair. Some people are teaching special education students. Some people are teaching students that are far behind to begin with," Schaubach said.

Per-pupil allowance

The other major component is back-to-back 2 percent increases in the general per-pupil allowance, a staple in the school funding diet. It has been stuck at $4,601 for three years. Pawlenty would bump it up $100 per student next year and about the same the year after that. Some districts would see more though because they get extra pockets of aid tied to the general allowance. On average, the per-student increase would be $122 in fiscal year 2006 and $126 in 2007.

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