Amanda Burbank's workday starts with a leaky juice box. One of her third-graders at Foothills Elementary School in Buckley has a box with a hole in it.
As Burbank wipes up the spill, she calls out to other students beginning to fill the classroom: “Lunch count, folks!” Students respond, registering their meal choices.
Burbank moves the group along at a steady clip. With coats off and backpacks stowed, the kids quickly take their seats.
“Pencils ready?” Burbank asks.
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Several students shake their heads “No.”
“Ready?” she asks again.
And they’re off, with not a minute to waste.
Efficiency seems to be Burbank’s strong suit. It’s a trait that must have served her well during her 18-month journey to national board teacher certification. She went through the process while continuing to teach and while planning her wedding.
In December, Burbank joined colleagues Denise Shaleen and Sarah Hintz in earning the recognition. Together, they make up the entire third-grade faculty at Foothills in the White River School District.
All three say their chief motivation for going through the rigorous process was to grow professionally. But they also say they were looking forward to a reward for their efforts.
Now that financial incentive could fall prey to Washington’s budget woes.
Burbank, Shaleen and Hintz are among 1,272 Washington teachers newly certified in 2010. Washington was second only to North Carolina in numbers of newly minted board certified teachers announced last month. And Washington is now fourth in the nation for total numbers, with 5,247.
All three Foothills teachers say pursuing certification made them better teachers. Foothills Principal Mark Cushman is proud that seven of his 21 professional staff – including a librarian and counselor – are board certified.
“It places a teacher in a position to be reflective about their practice,” he says. “A good teacher is an artist.”
For more than a decade, Washington has been a leader in offering extra pay to teachers who achieve the certification.
Currently, teachers who successfully complete the process qualify to earn an extra $5,000 annually, with an additional $5,000 for board-certified teachers who work in state-designated “challenging schools” with high poverty rates. The bonuses are paid for 10 years, at which time teachers must re-certify.
But in her proposal for the upcoming two-year state budget, which was released in December, Gov. Chris Gregoire would suspend bonuses for board-certified teachers. The move would save an estimated $99.5 million – part of a plan to shave $4.6 billion from the state’s recession-plagued budget.
Gregoire said she made her proposal reluctantly. The governor’s team insists she doesn’t want to kill the extra pay forever.
“She has been clear in her support for teachers,” said spokesman Scott Whiteaker.
Decisions on whether to suspend – and eventually restore – the money will fall to the Legislature.
Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the Senate budget committee, said his committee would meet Monday to discuss K-12 education. National board certification bonuses will be on the agenda.
“Obviously everything has to be on the table and we have to look at everything,” he said.
Burbank says she was devastated when she heard about Gregoire’s budget.
“It’s disappointing,” adds Shaleen. She describes all the “lost weekends” devoted to working on her board certification – instead of spending time with her family, including her new baby. She says she got through it by telling herself “We are going to get recognized for this.”
“I don’t envy (Gregoire) for the decisions she has to make,” says Hintz, who underwent treatment for breast cancer while working for her certification. “But this is a huge disappointment – $5,000 is a big deal to lose.”
Jim Meadows of the Washington Education Association agrees.
The teachers’ union supports board certification candidates with a program called Jump Start that helps candidates initiate the process.
He calls national board certification “one of the most comprehensive assessments of quality teaching that’s out there.”
Many teachers say gaining the certification is tougher than earning a master’s degree.
“It was the most challenging feat during my career,” says Shaleen, a 12-year classroom veteran. “You really have to examine your teaching.”
Certification takes at least 18 months. Teachers must submit a four-part portfolio – including videos of themselves at work in the classroom – along with results of tests that gauge knowledge of both the subjects they teach and teaching methods. Teachers must also submit evidence of student learning.
A national panel of peers reviews their entries. Only about half of all teachers who attempt board certification pass on their first try.
Meadows says rewarding teachers for this kind of hard work is the type of performance pay the union can support. Suspending it would be a mistake that will slow down the political conversation about potential new models for paying teachers, he adds.
“I think this would be perceived as a broken promise by some of our most accomplished teachers,” he says.
In addition to new board certified teachers like those at Foothills, about 1,500 teachers around the state are in the middle of the process. The talk about cuts has made some think about withdrawing, Meadows says.
Others have been granted loans to help pay for certification, which costs teachers at least $2,500 in fees. Many take out conditional loans for $2,000 – money that’s supposed to be paid back out of the first-year bonus. Without the extra money, Meadows fears teachers will have to come up with the money to repay the loans out of their own pockets.
Foothills Principal Cushman says that without a financial incentive, teachers may be reluctant to pursue certification.
And that would be a loss, he says, because “this is the best professional development we have for teachers.”
Staff writer Katie Schmidt contributed to this report.