Report: 144 Illinois school districts gave bonuses last year

CHICAGO (AP) - Nearly 150 Illinois public school districts gave bonuses to teachers and administrators last school year.

Those districts represent 20 percent of all districts. Bonuses have become a common way to inspire educators to improve student achievement, the Chicago Tribune reported. But researchers said results are varied, and critics wonder whether it's a good use of tax dollars.

Lake County's Community High School District 128 recently paid $500,000 in "performance recognition" checks, mostly to teachers for high student achievement. Administrators and custodians were also among those getting bonuses.

School Board President Pat Groody said it's a way to get people focused on "the concept that performance matters."

Timothy Anderson, critic of the merit pay, questioned the criteria used to award bonuses in District 128.

"They're giving a Christmas bonus to everybody," Anderson said. "That is fine if you're doing it in a privately owned company but not with taxpayers' money."

The district said while the bonus checks are sent in December, they are not connected to the holidays.

Other districts provided bonuses for different reasons.

Downstate Pekin Public Schools District 108 gave bonuses to teachers for perfect attendance or to educators who used a minimal number of sick days. In the 2015-16 school year the district's sick day bonuses ranged from $75 to $250 for about 100 of the district's 108 employees, which totaled to $12,800, according to state data.

In Southern Illinois, during the 2015-16 school year the financially struggling East St. Louis School District 189 gave 345 employees nearly $1 million in bonuses.

Sydney Stigge-Kaufman, a spokeswoman for the district, said the bonuses were one time stipends in lieu of regular salary increases and were provided as part of a union contract.

Citing state data, the newspaper reported about 3,100 people received a total of $5.5 million. The average was $1,750.

The state's data only includes licensed educators, such as teachers and administrators and other licensed professionals in schools such as social workers and school counselors. Meaning not all bonuses distributed would show up in the state's data for districts like District 128, which gave bonuses to non-licensed employees as well as its educators.

Teachers in regular schools districts in the Chicago Public Schools system do not get bonuses based on performance. The Chicago Teachers Union has fought against merit pay.

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