FARMINGTON — San Juan County school superintendents answered a variety of questions from members of the state Legislative Finance Committee about the performance of their schools on Thursday, debating the validity of merit pay for teachers and the quality of education provided by online charter schools.

The second day of committee meetings opened Thursday morning with a nearly three-hour session where superintendents of the four public school districts in the county gave updates on their districts' performance on state assessments. They also spoke about initiatives to improve areas like district reading levels and they answered questions from the members of the committee about a variety of education topics.

Legislative Finance Committee members meet on Thursday at San Juan College in Farmington.
Legislative Finance Committee members meet on Thursday at San Juan College in Farmington. (Jon Austria/ The Daily Times)

Superintendents Kirk Carpenter of Aztec Municipal Schools, Joe Rasor of the Bloomfield School District, Don Levinski of Central Consolidated Schools and Janel Ryan of Farmington Municipal Schools gave presentations about their respective school districts during the first half of the meeting.

Topics included enrollment, student proficiency in reading and math, graduation rates, and school grades from the state's A-to-F school assessments.

Following their presentations, the superintendents fielded questions from the committee members about absenteeism, the effectiveness of the constantly changing student assessments and more.

Rep. Patricia A. Lundstrom, D-District 9, asked the superintendents how they feel about the program implemented by the New Mexico Public Education Department to reward teachers with bonuses for good performance on state testing.

"It's hard for me as a superintendent to write an appeal for a single teacher based on the fact that education today is such a collaboration," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said he does not believe in merit pay and any appeal written for such bonuses would be for a team of teachers.

Rasor and Levinski and Ryan shared similar concerns.

Ryan said in the current teacher evaluation system, none of her nearly 800 teachers are listed as "exemplary," the highest rank a teacher can achieve. She said the system must be further developed so it can reflect teachers performance more accurately.

Rasor said the schools should get the money from merit pay, dividing it amongst teachers to reward them for bringing state test scores up.

Rep. Donald E. Bratton. R-District 32, asked about the impact that online public charter schools have on the school systems in the area.

Ryan said a majority of the students enrolled in the New Mexico Virtual Academy, a sixth through 12th grade online school chartered through Farmington schools, are from the Albuquerque area.

Online charter schools can play a role, but for a select number of students, Ryan said.

"If they meet the need of home school students, I can support" the online schools, Ryan said.

Rasor said he would like to see the public school system providing support to home school parents and helping them more, working with them in a partnership.

Ryan spoke about how the district uses online course programs for credit recovery but a qualified teacher is always present for provide help.

"I do not believe it can replace the teacher," Levniski said. "Even the online courses in colleges, some people can do well on it but some can't. I would be very cautious of it."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.