Educators who stick around longer and those who earn an advanced degree earn a higher salary, regardless of how well they do their jobs.
But now Richmond County is considering tying pay to performance.
The school board has directed Superintendent Dana Bedden to begin looking into pay for performance for principals and teachers, a growing national trend.
"I don't have an official plan yet," Dr. Bedden said, but, "I think it's important that we try to reward performance."
Frank Dolan, the chairman of the school board's finance committee, likens the idea to the incentives written into the superintendent's contract.
"In the private sector, that's exactly how it works," said Mr. Dolan, a business owner.
"As bad as it is to say, I think some teachers are just marking time," he said.
The issue of performance pay is a hot one nationally, said Matthew Springer, the director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. The idea, however, is nothing new. It's come up for about 150 years.
"Particularly in the past two decades, it's been a pretty heated debate," he said.
There has been no conclusive research showing the effectiveness of incentive pay in education, Dr. Springer said. Vanderbilt is working on what he called the first true experiment to answer that question, due out next year.
In theory, performance pay should motivate an educator to work harder or differently and also help retain high-performing educators, recruit other high-performers and align teachers' goals to the school system's, he said.
Performance pay has been shown to produce better outcomes in the business sector, Dr. Springer said, but he noted that the world of education differs greatly from the world of business, where performance can be easily measured by how much a person sells.
Dr. Springer said he supports innovation, but it needs to be based on sound policy.
The current salary system has only a marginal correlation to student performance, he said. A teacher's performance doesn't improve significantly after seven years on the job, and earning additional degrees only makes a slight difference and only if it is an advanced subject degree.
Dr. Springer said it's difficult to say how many school systems pay educators based on performance.
"It's safe to say it's growing," he said.
The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state's largest group of educators, supports merit pay, spokesman Tim Callahan said, but the program should be based on the school's performance as a whole and shouldn't reward only one or two teachers within a school.
Mr. Dolan said giving teachers and principals an added incentive will result in better test scores.
"If you get the test scores up, enrollment will go up, budgetary numbers will go, everything will go up," he said.
The school board will discuss the issue at an upcoming retreat.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank Dolan, the chairman of the Richmond County school board's finance committee, wants the board to consider performance pay for teachers and principals similar to the incentives offered to Superintendent Dana Bedden.
Most area school systems pay their superinten-dents a flat salary regardless of their performance. That includes Columbia, Aiken, Burke and McDuffie counties. Some peer school systems, such as Savannah-Chatham County and Atlanta City, pay their superintendents based on how well they perform.
Savannah-Chatham's superintendent can earn an additional $40,000 on top of his base salary, and in Atlanta the superintendent can earn $82,000 in additional pay. Dr. Bedden can earn as much as $15,000 more if he meets the school board's goals.