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Will merit pay keep teachers from leaving?

Will merit pay keep teachers from leaving?

By Matt Grant. CREATED Mar 22, 2012 - UPDATED: Mar 22, 2012

FORT MYERS -  The Lee County School District is losing half of its new teachers.  So, what will it take them to stay put?

"We want our teachers to be able to stay," said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke. "We want them to be able to become integral part of the community."

After spending thousands training and recruiting new teachers, half of them leave after five years, according to Burke.

He says that's in line with the national average. But when teachers leave for other professions, it costs the district $6 million a year, Burke said.

"We certainly want to retain those people and keep them on track," said Burke. "One of the things you have to do is you have to incentivize that."

Last year, the governor signed a law mandating merit pay for teachers. District and union officials are now ironing out details, which could give teachers a $2000-$10,000 raise based on classroom performance.

"Would you say teacher retention is one of the most pressing issues facing the district right now?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"I would," said Donna Mutzenard with the teacher's union.

She says salary is one reason new teachers aren't staying put.

"If we think teaching is an important profession," said Mutzenard, "than we need to compensate them in a manner that they should be compensated."

But she feels that compensation shouldn't be based on student tests scores.

In addition to merit pay, the union is working on an agreement that would give teachers added responsibilities and jobs and a slightly longer workweek to help pad their paycheck.

"To give them that opportunity to make more is great," she said. "To base it off of student test scores is not great."

All of this comes at a time when the district is staring at a $15 million shortfall next year and will dip into its reserves to cover the raises.

Burke says the district will apply for grants to help offset the cost.

Matt Grant