ST. PAUL (AP) -- In exchange for working in some of the state's toughest schools and forfeiting some job security, select teachers could earn up to $100,000 a year in a pilot program announced by Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday.
The Republican governor said he will seek money and legislative approval next year to create "super teacher" positions in up to five Minnesota schools with high numbers of poor or otherwise disadvantaged students.
He hopes the possibility of five-figure bonuses will lure top-notch teachers into unenviable classrooms. "Some of our best teachers are shying away from our most challenged sites," he said.
Interested teachers would have to give up the job security that comes with tenure. School administrators would also have the authority to hire, assign and dismiss the teachers as they saw fit.
Judy Schaubach, the president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, said she supported the project's goals of recruiting and retaining top educators, but questioned its specifics.
"We are taking the proposal seriously and we need to look at it further," she said.
Pawlenty said he envisions gearing the program toward elementary schools.
Initially, the program could involve up to 150 teachers and cost the state between $2.5 and $5 million a year. Teachers in the program would be eligible for bonuses approaching $40,000 a year based on student achievement.
He said the program would help "raise the bar for all Minnesota students, but also to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color."
He said white students in Minnesota have some of the highest achievement levels in the nation, but nationally Minnesota also has one of the largest differences in achievement between white and black students.
Additionally, Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke said they would try to make it easier for people from nontraditional teaching backgrounds to get into the classroom.
Some of these people could get the "super teacher" label, but they could also fill vacancies at schools having trouble hiring traditional teachers.
"We shouldn't be prohibiting them from entering the classroom," Yecke said. "We should be welcoming them."
Schaubach said she learned of the program Wednesday morning and was reluctant to comment extensively about it.
However, she said Pawlenty should be careful not to dilute teacher quality while recruiting teachers from nontraditional backgrounds.
"We don't want to do anything to lower the standards for people entering our classrooms," she said.
She was also concerned that designating some instructors "super teachers" could hurt morale and hinder collaboration among teachers within a school.
"There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions about this proposal," she said.
Wednesday's proposals were the second round of substantive education initiatives rolled out by Pawlenty in the past two weeks.
Late last month, he called for all Minnesota students to read by the first grade.
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