Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt ready to tie his pay to student performance

BROOKSVILLE — When Bryan Blavatt took the job last year as Hernando's school superintendent, he said he was willing to tie part of his salary to student performance.

The caveat, he told School Board members: Give me a year to establish a baseline of data, and we'll go from there.

Now, with his first anniversary on the job on Friday and as sweeping reforms that base part of teachers' pay to students' test scores have become state law, Blavatt is devising a system that would do the same for him, starting with his 2012 evaluation.

He said he plans to present that system Tuesday, when the board is scheduled to discuss his evaluation form for this past year.

"The measure of my effectiveness is how well the kids are doing and how much progress the district has made," Blavatt said. "The way (superintendents are) usually evaluated by a board is whether people are happy enough, unfortunately. But you could have a lot of people who are happy but not be making progress as a district."

Blavatt's current three-year contract pays him a base salary of $130,000, with annual increases given at the discretion of the board based on his performance and at least three other considerations including "budget considerations," pay raises given to other 12-month administrative employees, and increases in pay given by the Legislature to elected superintendents.

At the very least, Blavatt said, his salary should increase only if student performance improves.

That could lead to a pay raise this time next year, which could be problematic. Discussions will begin soon on the 2011-12 budget, and it could prove to be one of the toughest budget years in recent memory. District officials will almost certainly be asking the teachers union this year to voluntarily forgo the automatic pay increases built into the union contract.

All these things considered, Blavatt said he could not "in good conscience ask for more money" if the overall financial picture does not brighten.

Blavatt said he is so confident in the district's ability to improve — and in his own ability to help make it happen — that he is willing to drop his base pay to as low as $120,000 this year and add to that bonuses based on student performance.

Asked what kind of criteria the board should consider, Blavatt noted the colorful, framed poster hung recently at the district's headquarters.

The poster includes the district's overall letter grade in the state's A-Plus accountability system and shows the last five years of data in categories such as Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores and the percentage of students meeting adequate yearly progress according to federal benchmarks.

Other data points include SAT scores, the percentage of students meeting college-ready standards based on ACT scores, and the graduation and dropout rates.

Blavatt said he is open to talking about all of those items as potential markers for his evaluation.

"If those things stay the same, my salary shouldn't stay up," he said.

Blavatt's contract states that his annual evaluation will be based in part on "performance standards" set by the board.

One of the sections of the evaluation form used for Blavatt's predecessor is "Student Achievement/Instructional Management." Board members were asked to rank the superintendent on six criteria, including this goal: "Demonstrates progress toward meeting strategic plan goals related to student achievement."

It was up to board members to consider the district's performance and rate the superintendent on a nine-point scale from "outstanding" to "needs attention."

If Blavatt and the board want a guide, they can look just two counties to the south.

Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia has had performance-based criteria in her contract since she took the job in 2005. Elia receives on top of her annual salary a performance bonus based on 18 criteria.

Some examples: $100 for every school that earned an A grade; $200 for every school that achieved adequate yearly progress according to federal benchmarks; $750 for every point increase to African-American's reading scores, with the same bonus for Hispanics; and $500 for every point increase to those minorities' math scores.

Based on this year's data, Elia earned an additional $30,237 on top of a nearly $250,000 base salary. That base salary figure includes a voluntarily 5 percent cut Elia offered last year. Two years ago, she donated an amount equal to her $42,437 performance bonus to the local education foundation.

Elia's predecessor had a similar performance-based system in place, "So when I was hired, it just became part of the conversation," she said.

"We're expecting the teachers to be responsible for the work they do," she said. Superintendents, she said, should be, too.

Other appointed superintendents in the state work under a contract similar to Elia's that ties bonuses to student performance, though it's unclear how many, said state Sen. Bill Montford, who also serves as chief executive officer for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

As the state demands accountability from teachers and stakes part of their paycheck on student performance, more superintendents will have their base salary tied to scores and other markers, Montford said.

"I think it's totally reasonable to expect us to move in that direction," Montford said.

Teachers are likely to have a nuanced reaction to Blavatt's proposal, said Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Joe Vitalo.

Certainly there will be some appreciation and feeling of solidarity with Blavatt after Gov. Rick Scott last week signed into law the so-called Student Success Act. The law created a new teacher evaluation system that will base a portion of pay on standardized test scores.

But for teachers, working with a much smaller sample size and a much lower salary, the stakes are much higher, Vitalo said. Some teachers might also feel that Blavatt as chief executive will be benefitting from the hard work of the teachers in the trenches.

The proverbial buck stops at Blavatt, Vitalo said.

"It's leadership that's ensuring the district is following a vision and goals, and if it's following a vision and goals, then it should be successful," he said. "His leadership skills will determine if everyone's on the right page."

School Board member James Yant said he liked Blavatt's idea to make sure employees "all play by the same rules."

"To develop a system where the superintendent is also held responsible would be a fair way do that," Yant said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt ready to tie his pay to student performance 03/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 8:10pm]

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