LAND O'LAKES — Staci Kreitz admits to the anxiety.
"Anytime somebody comes in and says, 'Excuse me, we're going to take some of your money away and you might get some of it back,' … it would make anybody nervous," said Kreitz, a science teacher for Pasco eSchool.
Yet she and her online education colleagues plunged into the world of performance pay last year, before state lawmakers mandated it for future years. They agreed to a 5 percent pay cut, with that amount to come back only after 80 percent of their students successfully completed their courses.
As a bonus, they could earn another 1 percent of pay for each additional 1 percent of students to pass, up to 5 percent more.
The pilot program looks to have worked: Each of the eSchool's 10 full-time and nine adjunct teachers got the full 105 percent, the district reported Thursday.
The eSchool's pass rate, at 78.8 percent before the deal, rose to 95 percent — well above the state average passing rate, and a district goal to ensure proper funding. The state does not pay per-student education funding for online courses until after a student passes.
"This time, I'm not worrying about it as much," Kreitz said of the ongoing contract negotiations to continue performance pay for eSchool teachers this year.
eSchool administrator Joanne Glenn said she expected the model to remain the same for the middle and high school teachers, with some adjustments for the elementary teachers whose students don't complete credits every semester.
"We will focus on finding a fair way to compensate the elementary teachers," Glenn said.
As the school district implements new state law on teacher evaluations and pay, though, she figured her online teachers will have to look for a new performance pay system.
"We will have to change," she said. "We don't know how, yet."
Contract negotiations for teachers are set to resume soon, with the focus turned to evaluations and the use of student results to determine teacher success.
Kreitz said that while she has no problem with performance pay as she knows it, she can understand the apprehension that other teachers might have. She taught at Mitchell High and Anclote High before joining eSchool, and has seen the side of schooling where students are less disciplined about their work and parents less positively involved.
Despite some criticism that virtual education is ripe for cheating, Kreitz said she feels more connected to students as she teaches them remotely than she did when she had a traditional classroom.
"I know who they are. I know their work," she said, adding that they must personally demonstrate their knowledge in order to pass.
"I can see in some cases where performance-based pay would not show, unfortunately, what a teacher is worth and how well they are doing their job," Kreitz added.
As for herself, though, "It worked out very, very well."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.