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After funding cuts, SLC schools hope to keep teacher mentoring

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2017 11:05 am

Despite success in lowering teacher turnover, funds for the pilot program have been cut by state lawmakers.

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Mills praised his in-school mentor, "but she can't come in once a week and watch," he said. "The nature of the beast is you can't get as much feedback [without PAR]."

Peer Assistance Review doesn't address all of the challenges that push teachers out of the profession, Hall said. Pay is still relatively low, the demands are high and Utah's class sizes are among the largest in the nation.

But a full-time consultant can provide the equivalent of five year's worth of training in a single year, Hall said, which helps lighten the load for both teachers and school principals.

"It helps them feel more successful at what they're doing," Hall said. "I think that goes a long way."

Victim of success • Many involved with PAR said they were disappointed to see state funds cut for one of the few initiatives with a record of keeping teachers in the classroom.

"I was expecting that our legislators would be supportive of anything that showed promise in retaining teachers and supporting them," said Susan McFarland, president of the Salt Lake Education Association.

A state lawmaker influential in school funding issues countered that while the Legislature plays a role in launching new school programs, decisions to maintain or expand them are best left to district administrators.

Rather than continue PAR indefinitely, or make it a mandate throughout the state, said Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, it is better to keep school funding unrestricted and give local administrators discretion on where they spend it.

"No two districts are the same," said McCay, who chairs the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "They all have different tools available to them through [per-student funding] to solve the teacher shortage." While PAR funding was cut, lawmakers approved a new pilot program that would award $5,000 bonuses to effective teachers who remain at or move to high-poverty schools. The budget also included new funding to cover the cost of teacher's licenses.

"I recognize that everybody would like one program to stick around or another," McCay said. "I just expect that at some point, as these pilot programs roll in, they will also roll out."

But Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, countered that lawmakers spend millions of dollars each year on learning software programs with marginal results, but cut cash for a program mitigating one of the most serious challenges facing public education.

"It's frustrating to see a successful program denied funding because it is successful," Briscoe said. "I can come to no other conclusion but that the Legislature loves technology more than it loves teachers."

He said the argument that pilot programs need to be phased out would be more acceptable if it was applied consistently to the education budget.

"It looked to me like we were picking and choosing because it was the only program, the only one, they stopped funding," Briscoe said. "If you were a cynic, you might wonder."

McCay's co-chair, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the appropriations committee is planning a year-long review of Utah's education budget. He said PAR, despite its successes, was ripe for revision since it was being used by a single school district.

"It sounded like a good program," Hillyard said. "I hope to hear a presentation this summer or next session about what we have learned and if it is worthwhile to do statewide."


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