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Minneapolis education accountability to start at the top

Talk about pay for performance.

Talk about pay for performance. Minneapolis’ top educator is about to sign a contract spelling out, in meticulous detail, exactly what progress her 32,000 pupils (and their grownup instructors) need to display if she is to keep her job.

When the Minneapolis School Board meets tonight, it is likely to approve a series of performance benchmarks for Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. So far as district brass know, the side agreement to the new super’s contract would be the first accountability clause in Minnesota history. 

“What gets measured gets done,” said Board Chair Tom Madden. “Bernadeia knows that and the board knows that.”

Johnson will be evaluated on the district’s academic progress, on the implementation of four district-wide projects and on her ability to strengthen Minneapolis Public Schools internal and external relationships. If she makes all of the goals, she’s in line for a $30,000 bonus.

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(If that sounds like a lot, it’s far less than the cushy benefits packages, golden parachutes and other perks big city superintendents often enjoy. In another departure, Johnson will even be paying her own health-insurance premiums. Granted, that won’t sting too badly, given her $190,000 base salary.)

Half of Johnson’s potential bonus hinges on MPS showing academic gains and making progress closing the achievement gap. Better district relationships are worth another 10 percent. The remaining 40 percent will be paid depending on progress on implementing a system of focused instruction, creation of a long-range financial plan and budget process, institution of accountability systems throughout the district and the installation of information management systems that allow data-driven decision-making.

The first-of-its-kind contract has been under negotiation for a long time, but there was never any disagreement between board and super about its importance. Even before her appointment was made official last winter, Johnson told community groups she was in favor of such a mechanism.

Board member Chris Stewart, who, along with Madden, is not running for re-election this fall, campaigned on the idea four years ago. “I feel good that it’s finally happening,” he said, “even if it is in the year I’m leaving.”

With so much emphasis on teacher accountability in the current political climate, holding the top teacher every bit as accountable as her staff is only right, said Madden.

“The mistake we’ve made historically is we start with the teachers and go backwards,” he said. “This time, we’re starting with the top.”