Rick Scott just signed a law that forces merit pay on to teachers and school districts. Merit pay is a code word for “no raises” and has very little to do with merit or with increasing incentives to excel, and everything to do with cutting the pay of employees. How do I know that? I will explain…

Firefighters are not hired here in Florida the way that they are in most other states. Here in Florida, we are a ‘right to work state’ and in combination with some other factors, this has made the way we are hired a bit different. In most states, the fire and police departments hire you, and then put you through a training academy. Not so in Florida.
Here in Florida, you attend the fire academy on your own dime. Like college, you pay to go to the school and attend the 480 hour school on your own. Then, you take and pass the state firefighter exam to get your license. You also have to attend the 266 hour EMT school on your own, and pass that state licensing exam. There is also a state required 16 hour EVOC course. Since many departments will not hire you unless you are a paramedic, you also attend paramedic school and pass that licensing exam, another 1200 hours. In total, it takes about two years to become a licensed Florida firefighter.
Then you start looking for a job. You take any job you can get, because your firefighter certification is only good for two years, then if you are not working by then, you start over.

What does all of this have to with merit pay? Well, when I was originally hired by my current department in 1998, you were hired at a base rate of pay, which in my case was $8.44 an hour. You received an automatic 8% raise every year on your anniversary date. All of that changed just two years after I was hired when we went to a ‘merit pay’ system. Merit pay started out great. It was designed so good employees got a 5% raise, and outstanding employees get a 5% raise and a $1,000 bonus. The first year, I got both. The second year, the raise went away, and good employees got a $500 bonus, and outstanding employees got $1,000. I got $1,000. The third year, outstanding employees got a 3% raise. No one else got anything. I got nothing that year. Not only were raises getting smaller, they were getting hard to earn. Less than 2% of employees got a raise.

After my fire department had done this for about 5 years, we were the lowest paying department in the area. We were bleeding people like crazy. We hired 40 people, and a year later all but two of them had left to take jobs with a higher paying department. They were taking their skills and education where the money was. So, the department gave everyone a 10% raise. That was in 2005. I have only gotten one raise since. I make just 3% more per hour than I did in 2007. We still do employee evaluations, but there is no longer any money tied to it. Explain how a merit pay system that gives no raises can possibly incentivize anyone into doing anything.

This is where our education system is headed.

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