State education leaders will soon be embarking on a task described as climbing Everest — developing a performance-pay plan for teachers.

Tuesday the State Board of Education gave preliminary approval to rules that would implement a merit-pay program for this year. They also moved forward in talks to create a working group aimed at developing a state plan for differentiated compensation, something mandated by recent legislation but which was not widely supported by educators.

"It's not like a trip to the mall, it's like a trip into the wilds of Alaska — it's not something to take up without some forethought," said Larry Shumway, state associate superintendent.

Late in the legislative session this spring lawmakers passed a $20 million measure aimed at providing performance-based compensation — extra money for good or exceptional teachers.

They nixed another bill that would have set up a merit-pay task force, with the idea being that school districts could craft ideas and plans of how to implement performance-based compensation and report on how well it worked.

So instead of the task force, lawmakers will be discussing the idea at the next five Education Interim Committee meetings.

But last month the state board decided to set up its own 22-member working group charged with creating a workable plan, and have petitioned lawmakers to be able to play a part in the coming committee discussions in collaborative work.

"Once we start down this road we know this is a path that will lead to divergent feelings and opinions and it will sometimes be emotional and challenging," Shumway said. "It is important we all have a commitment to understand and develop something that is truly collaborative of all the interests."

Meanwhile, due to a measure passed late in the session, school districts will have to come up with plans in how to dole out merit-pay funding for the coming year.

Under a draft rule board members passed Friday, school districts that choose to participate in the differentiated compensation program are required to submit a plan laying out who will be eligible, how performance will be assessed and the amount that will be given. Those plans would be due July 1.

"It is always nice to have opportunity to make a difference and I think this could make a difference if we do it in the correct way," said Debra Roberts, state board member. "This is done because of our respect and appreciation of teachers and this is done to uplift the profession and show them our appreciation."

The board also hammered out draft rules regarding one-time signing bonuses for new teachers, as well as extra paid days for special education teachers.

Under the rules that came out of recent legislation new teachers will be getting $1,000 bonuses to enter into teaching contracts next year. Those eligible are teachers who did not teach in state in 2007-08 school year as a licensed educator under contract. New teachers must teach for at least 90 days before they get the bonus and school administrators are not eligible.

Draft rules were also approved for stipends going to special education teachers of $200 a day for up to three teaching days.

"Special educators are required to do so much paperwork and this acknowledges that and gives them extra days for that kind of work," said board member Kim Burningham.

The board is set to give final approval to the rules next month.