Principal Ernie Broderick usually likes to make a fuss, maybe even hold a school assembly, when his teachers are presented with giant novelty checks for thousands of dollars.
But when three of his staff members received such checks at Stansbury Elementary School this week, the presentations were modest and confined to individual classrooms. Not everyone on the staff was eligible to try out for the new bonuses, Broderick said.
The money has started coming through a state pilot program designed to incentivize high-performing teachers to stay in schools with high rates of poverty among students. The program relies on standardized SAGE test scores to measure growth, meaning some teachers whose students do not take SAGE tests cannot earn the bonuses.
Still, Broderick said, there’s evidence the program is working.
The Utah Legislature approved the pilot program in 2017 with the goal of creating an extra incentive for effective teachers to remain in less affluent Title 1 schools, which are sometimes perceived as difficult assignments.
Many Title 1 students come from low-income homes with parents who work multiple jobs and have less time to help kids with homework or reading. Some families speak English as a second language and require an interpreter during parent-teacher conferences, Broderick said.
“Title 1 schools traditionally hire newer teachers who are eager to change the world,” Broderick said. “Then a few years later, they often move on to greener pastures.”
When legislators set aside roughly $400,000 for the program, Granite School District officials described their schools as "hemorrhaging" teachers to other districts.
Handing out bonuses, which average about $5,000, has given Broderick an edge during the hiring process, he said Friday. Most years, the principal gets one or two applicants who have more than 10 years’ experience. This year, he saw 10 applicants fitting that description.
“I really do think that a lot of times when you have talented people you’re not just interviewing them, they’re interviewing you too,” Broderick said. “They have many different options before them.”
Still, he worries the pilot program might not be included in next year’s budget because of its selective eligibility. The Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, opposed the idea last year on the grounds that 70 percent of secondary teachers are ineligible for the money.
Stanbury sixth-grade teacher Jonathon Hall received the bonus this year. One of his peers, he said, was just as successful, but could not receive the money because she taught third grade.
“She’s getting screwed out of the deal here,” Hall said. “So I do see teachers upset about it. I see teachers resentful.”
Still, the bonus made a difference in Hall’s household. The teacher said he sometimes toys with the idea of joining his wife to work at a higher-performing school in the nearby Canyons School District.
But this year, he was able to point to the bonus as a sign that working for Stansbury meant he could earn enough to pay for a looming home fence repair.
Fifth-grade teacher Trudy Roper said she was happy to get the money and that it was affirmation that her hard work is effective. But she said she did feel a little embarrassed to be handed a giant check for $4,600 in front of her students.
“Most never have seen that kind of money,” she said.
Roper felt her colleagues worked just as hard as she did and deserved a reward too.
”We just don’t toot our own horns as much in education,” she said. “It’s not a business. I don’t want people to feel like I’m bragging.”