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Editorial: Why would unions kill great teachers’ bonuses?

If you are a great teacher who is helping increase student proficiency, AP test participation and graduation rates, and the state wants to recognize and honor your hard work with a $5,000 or $10,000 bonus, should a teachers union be able to step in and decline for you?

Because that’s what the National Education Association-New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation appear to be planning to do.

This week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed off on a budget bill that provides for $5,000 and $10,000 bonuses for exemplary teachers in New Mexico. And while she used her line-item veto authority to strike the language giving teachers unions the ability to decide whether the school districts and charter schools they represent will participate, one union leader says her group might still be able to block the bonuses by invoking their collective bargaining rights under state law.

NEA-NM President Betty Patterson says “school employees can rest assured our local associations will use negotiations to locally determine whether their district will go forward with this wildly unpopular ‘merit pay’ program that undermines collaboration among school teams.”

And the Albuquerque Teachers Federation said last week it planned to block the bonuses for Albuquerque Public Schools teachers, because the evaluation system is too flawed to be the basis of compensation.

Here’s betting school employees would rather be assured their amazing efforts are recognized with something more tangible than empty union rhetoric. Because the data shows that some of New Mexico’s exemplary teachers – the highest ranking on state teacher evaluations – deliver the equivalent of 25 months of learning in a single year.

The vetoed language would have given unions the ability to block the bonuses, not just for their own members, but for all teachers in the districts they represent, which is just wrong.

And while there is no doubt an element of unfairness to the bonuses in that not every great teacher – for various reasons – is rated as exemplary, it’s the evaluation system we’ve got right now. So it makes sense to reward the ones that make the top grade while continuing to fine-tune evaluations of specific subject areas to better reach equity. Rather than work toward that end, the unions are suing over the evals and appear to have the attitude that if every teacher doesn’t get a reward then no teacher should get one.

But let’s humor them. What would it look like if the $5 million earmarked for exemplary teachers were instead divided equally among all of the state’s roughly 22,400 teachers? Each teacher would receive an extra $223 a year, or less than $9 more in their paychecks every two weeks. That’s hardly an incentive to stretch your teaching wings.

It’s not unusual for NEA and ATF to draw a line in the sand – but it’s a sad day when they are willing to stand in the way of deserving teachers receiving $5,000 or $10,000 bonuses. In fact, it’s flat-out wrong, and union officials should be ashamed of themselves for being willing to penalize teachers who have proven themselves simply because they don’t like the governor or her reforms. Never mind that those reforms have delivered student results.

The federation’s stance leaves the ugly impression that educators are jealous individuals who can’t handle their colleagues being rewarded for their accomplishments. The educators we know are hardworking, unsung heroes who celebrate the successes of all around them, be they students or colleagues.

Charles Bowyer, the executive director of the NEA-NM, argues that the bonus plan is insulting because, “It sort of implies that teachers are holding something back and will do more if they get more money.”

Wrong again. The majority of N.M. teachers are not holding anything back. On the contrary, they deserve a meaningful reward when they’re able to accomplish great things and help others do the same – just like other respected professionals.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.