Friday, May 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Robison Middle School
Jim Guthrie's idea to pay a group of top-performing teachers an annual salary of $200,000 received mixed reactions from Clark County schoolteachers this week.
The former state superintendent stepped down abruptly and without explanation a month ago, but he said he isn't going to stop generating new ideas to try to improve Nevada's struggling education system.
This week, libertarian think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute published a paper outlining Guthrie's $200,000-a-year classroom teacher idea.
In it, Guthrie argued the state should budget an additional $200 million to raise the annual salary of 2,000 teachers to $200,000. These "master teachers" — which represent about 10 percent of teachers in Nevada — would work a longer school year in the most at-risk campuses and help instill best teaching practices in other educators.
His idea, Guthrie said, would be cheaper and more effective in raising student achievement than Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget plan, which calls for an expansion of full-day kindergarten and resources for non-English-speaking students. If approved by the Legislature and state School Board, the idea could be in place by fall 2014, he said.
The higher salary's benefits would be twofold, Guthrie said.
The $200,000 salary would elevate the teaching profession, enticing top college graduates to teach instead of going into more lucrative fields such as finance and law. It would also improve the teacher retention rate; about half of teachers nationally leave the profession after five years.
"We've got to get away from the timid (ideas)," Guthrie said. "We need bold ideas."
Teachers at Robison Middle School, 825 Marion Drive, had mixed feelings about Guthrie's proposal, however.
Eighth-grade English teacher Matt Angelo said he liked the idea of elevating the profession's status to better recruit and retain educators.
The $200,000 salary “would definitely make (teaching) more attractive, especially for people thinking about going into business," Angelo said.
Other teachers, however, seemed skeptical about Guthrie's proposal.
"It's not about the money," said guidance counselor Edna States. "Back when I started, teachers were trusted more and the training of teachers was different. To me, (elevating the profession) is about the attitudes of the Legislature and school boards and the community toward education."
Eighth-grade geography teacher David Huggins said he believed teachers should be paid more but called Guthrie's proposal "a little over the top."
The average Clark County teacher receives an annual salary of $66,000 including benefits, according to the district. Salaries for a first-year teacher such as Huggins start around $35,000.
"If they want to do something for teachers, reduce our class sizes. That would help," Huggins said. "We need to have more teachers instead of paying the ones we've got exorbitant levels."
Teachers also were concerned about how the 2,000 educators getting the $200,000 salary would be decided, and by whom.
"You better be a teacher they're writing books about," Huggins said.
"I can think of some great teachers who deserve (the $200,000 salary)," orchestra teacher Joni DeClercq said. "But God forbid it goes to the wrong teachers. It'll depend on how they set up the system and if it's fair."
Elective teachers said they would take issue with Guthrie's proposal if music, art and gym teachers wouldn't be considered for the $200,000 salary. Many measures of student achievement and teacher evaluations concentrate on core and tested classes, such as English, math and science.
"My opinion is share the wealth," said Lara Lewis, a physical education teacher. "Why choose a few teachers when everyone's working hard? Give us that benefit pay for our schooling so we can be better teachers."
Many teachers were worried the $200,000 salary would breed resentment and discord among staff.
"(The higher salary) is a ridiculous and offensive idea," sixth-grade English teacher Colleen Martinson said. "It would create a grotesque division between the average teacher's salary and this salary.
"I wouldn't accept it because it's unjust. I'm a great teacher. We're in this for the students. We need to focus on them."
Caroline Tsoi, a sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher, said she feared the $200,000 salary would attract the wrong type of people to the profession.
"You don't want teachers who are here for the money," Tsoi said. "Teachers are training the minds of the future, so they should be paid well. But at the heart of it, you need to have the right motivation around kids."
Clark County School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said the district was supportive of the theory of better-paid teachers. However, with the current budget crunch, paying teachers more at this time isn't feasible, she said.
Additionally, the state would need to have a solid teacher evaluation system in place before starting a discussion about performance pay, Fulkerson said.
"First, you need a good system to define an exemplary teacher," she said.
Despite the criticisms, Guthrie said he planned to keep churning out ideas that he believes would benefit the state's children.
"I'm not leaving Nevada. I'm not going away quickly and quietly," Guthrie said. "Someone's got to keep speaking up for the kids.”