Some pay for Charleston County’s top school officials was supposed to be based in part on their performance this year, but that hasn’t happened.

The pilot effort intended to demonstrate leadership on this controversial issue hasn’t been implemented, and some school board members are frustrated with the lack of progress.

“It just needs to be done,” said school board member Chris Fraser. “Just because we haven’t done it before or it’s uncomfortable; those are excuses.”

The board set aside money in this school year’s budget for the incentive-pay program for 43 of the district’s top administrators, but district staffers haven’t figured out how to make that a reality.

This effort is one of two pay-for-performance initiatives being developed in Charleston County. The other will be funded in part by a $23.7 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant, and it also has run into some snags. Still, that new evaluation is slated to be tested on some teachers this fall, and a compensation system based on effectiveness will follow.

Paying educators based on their performance is a relatively new concept to education, and many educators have criticized proposals to do so. Teachers traditionally have been paid based on their experience and degrees, and many have concerns with the validity and fairness of evaluating and compensating them based on students’ test scores.

At least two other pay-for-performance systems already are being used in small groups of Charleston County schools, specifically those receiving federal School Improvement Grant funds and those in the Charleston Promise Neighborhood.

School officials hope to learn from each of its efforts and put the best system into practice for the entire district.

Starting at the top

The county school board wanted to lay the foundation for a pay-for-performance system with its highest-paid employees before rolling it out to all district staff.

Mike Bobby, Charleston County schools’ chief of finance, operations and human resources, said district staff told a board committee in September that they would have a difficult time making the system work this school year, but staff didn’t bring the issue back to the full board until March for a number of reasons.

One of the problems with implementing the board’s mandate, Bobby said, was not having set aside enough money to reward the administrators, he said.

Another was fairness; the money that would have been used to fund performance bonuses was given automatically to most other staffers, but these workers were being treated differently, he said.

“We tried to stop and have a discussion early, but it got delayed and wasn’t brought back (to the board) until now,” Bobby said.

Bobby planned to ask the board at its last meeting in March for permission to give some of those administrators their second “step” or experienced-based raises. That second step was supposed to have been pooled and used for performance-pay funds.

The board didn’t act on the item and instead talked about the need to put this much-discussed idea into practice.

“We want to see forward progress,” said board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats.

The board’s audit and finance committee plans to talk about the issue again, and Bobby said his goal would be to make it happen in 2013-14.

Performance pay

The district learned in September that it received a $23.7 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant. Some of that money will go to hiring companies to develop new evaluation and compensation systems, and the district’s salary structure eventually would reward quality and effectiveness.

That evaluation system is supposed to be used in pilot schools for English and math in 2013-14, and the district has promised to gather teachers’ input. That still is on track to happen, said Audrey Lane, the district’s deputy for human capital development.

Officials have requested and received proposals from companies nationwide, and they plan to decide by mid-May which groups will be creating the evaluations and pay structure.

“We’re a little behind, but the vendors are aware of where we want to be by the fall and have designed their proposals accordingly,” Lane said.

Kent Riddle, who leads a teacher advocacy group, the Charleston Teacher Alliance, said his concern is that teacher feedback hasn’t been sought yet, and there won’t be time to get it before summer. Teachers have other commitments during the summer, such as second jobs, childcare and travel, and the quality of input would not be as great then as during the school year, he said.

“This is going to be a rushed, thrown-together project,” he said. “It’s a horrible start.”

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.