EDITORIAL: School officials should stick to written, not personal policies

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Employees of the Cannelton City Schools Corp. can expect nothing that’s backed by the handshakes or signatures of its leadership, we noted in this space in October 2012.

They proved that again in denying an incentive bonus to Bridget Bruggeman and other teachers.

As we reported Aug. 11, teachers were to have received bonuses if they earned designations of effective or highly effective. Bruggeman qualified according to written guidelines and her contract, but was denied her bonus on the excuse that she didn’t comply with unwritten criteria. The incentive bonus would not be paid to teachers who weren’t returning the following year under a policy that was unwritten but was practiced by Schools Superintendent Alva Sibbitt Jr. and, according to Sibbitt, Principal Roger Fisher.

The board met Thursday and voted without discussion to make that an official policy.

Bruggeman, who is now teaching Perry Central youngsters, may have been sincere when she said the money wasn’t that big an issue, that she simply wanted things to be clear for other Cannelton teachers. But a $1,000 bonus on her teacher’s salary is a big deal.

Bruggeman said she was more interested in helping teachers know in the future if they will receive the bonuses they earn. We suggest she fight for what she earned, and for what Sibbitt and board members admitted she deserved, had it not been for the unofficial, unwritten, personal policy. Sometimes leaders need to be taught lessons to ensure they’ll act appropriately in the future.

If teachers have to promise they’ll come back next year to get the bonus they’ve already earned, it’s not just a performance bonus, but also a loyalty bonus. Teachers don’t have to simply prove themselves to be effective or highly effective.

Sibbitt blamed others for Bruggeman “erroneously” thinking she was to receive the incentive pay.

He said, “I thought Mr. Fisher made that clear to all the teachers,” implying the principal may have been at fault. He also blamed Bruggeman herself when he said, “the other teachers, for some reason, all seemed to know” about the personal policy.

We’d like to see how well personal “policies” hold up in court. Throughout the business world, agreements set down in writing are the only ones that have any meaning. This promise was written into her teacher’s contract, Bruggeman told the board.

In what seemed to be a veiled threat, Sibbitt noted that the school district could have used the bonus money for other purposes. We’d like to point out that the $19,000 available for the latest bonuses wouldn’t go very far toward the purposes he mentioned. Effective teachers often go far beyond what’s expected of them in terms of time and other resources they devote to their students. A significant bonus recognizes that devotion in a way that transcends financial gratification.

Bruggeman’s bonus was to be an incentive for the superior teaching she provided in the 2013-14 school year.

She upheld her end of that agreement.

She and the other teachers who qualified under the original written criteria should get the bonus.

It’s that simple.

We strongly urge the school board to rescind the policy they approved Thursday. We see that as highly unlikely, however, so we hope teachers will band together to insist the incentive remain a reward for performance alone.

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