ANSON – Like most school districts in Maine, School Administrative District 74 pays its teachers according to their experience.

That will change starting next fall when the district’s approximately 60 teachers will have the option to switch to a pay scale based on their ability to teach.

The performance-based pay model, in the district that serves Anson, Embden, Solon and New Portland, is one of five being created in Maine under the Schools for Excellence program.

The program is developed by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and paid for by the federal Teacher Incentive Fund. In the district, teacher bonuses will also be paid for by its federal School Improvement Grant.

The money may be federal, but it’s the local input from teachers that will ensure the performance-based pay model’s continuance, Maine Schools for Excellence Project Director Scott Harrison said.

The pay structure is “being built by teachers, not being imposed on teachers. That’s one of the keys to our success, is collaborating with all stakeholders,” Harrison said.

That’s what will happen this summer. A group of teachers from all levels and subjects, plus administrators and other district representatives, will decide how to measure teachers’ performance and how to tie that performance to their salaries. The plan will require final approval by the school board.

“Until the committee has worked out what the criteria will be, it’s kind of unknown. So obviously, I’m optimistic the committee will come up with something that works for everyone,” said Carrabec Education Association President Dave Ela, a sixth-grade teacher at Carrabec Community School in Anson.

The decision to pursue the performance-based pay structure was approved by the local teachers union Monday. The school board gave its approval June 10.

Both the school board and teachers union worked together over the previous months to develop a new teachers’ contract that contains a performance-based salary scale, Superintendent Ken Coville said. The new pay scale will apply to all new teachers, and veteran teachers will decide themselves whether they want to join it.

Harrison said the district is doing progressive work, particularly by allowing teachers to choose whether or not to join the new salary track. “They clearly understand the importance of teacher buy-in and collaboration and fairness,” he said.

As the district creates a plan by which to judge teachers’ performance, Harrison said it’s important to lay out many different benchmarks.

He said teachers’ performance may be measured according to:

The knowledge they bring to the classroom, such as their certification and education level.

How they perform in the classroom and interact with students.

Outcomes, such as what students learn and how they improve academically.

A one-dimensional plan will result in teachers’ one-dimensional performance, he said. “We’re working on: What are the key measures that reflect educator effectiveness and can it be measured? Are they valid, are they reliable?” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of starting slowly. In the first year or two, the performance-based pay scales will likely be schoolwide in scope, instead of examining the performance of individual classrooms. That way, people within an entire school will receive bonuses for effective work.

“It’s less threatening, and it allows us to get started,” he said. It also gives teachers time to hone their skills, take more classes if they wish or obtain certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Harrison also stressed the importance of patience and honoring differing opinions in the transition time.

“It’s got to be a high-involvement, highly collaborative effort,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to take it slow and reflect on what you’ve done and refine continually.”

Coville said performance-based pay scales will result in no increased tax burden. “Unlike some bonus programs in other places and other times, this program will not add any cost to the local taxpayer,” he said.

That’s possible because the base salary is lower for teachers being paid according to their performance — although they will have the opportunity to earn more with bonuses.

As employees switch to the new scale over the next few years, their bonuses will be paid for by the grant funds, Coville said. The lower, base salaries will be paid for by local dollars.

The local savings will be put into an account to fund bonuses after the grant money runs out, Coville said.

The Teacher Incentive Fund grant lasts five years; the School Improvement Grant lasts three.