IPS leaders face pushback on plan to overhaul teacher pay, promotion

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Union leaders and fellow board members questioned a plan for overhauling teacher pay proposed by board member Caitlin Hannon at Tuesday's meeting.

A major overhaul of how Indianapolis Public Schools evaluates, pays, and promotes teachers hit a snag today when some board members, and the teachers union, expressed concerns about the district’s plan to hire consultants to do part of that work.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee first announced at a board retreat in late May that the district might spend $2.35 million to work with three groups over the next two years to help it roll out “Project Elevate,” an initiative to boost teaching in Indianapolis.

The district wants private funders to cover much of the costs, but Ferebee asked the school board to allocate $274,000 in public funds to kick off the work this summer.

That request encountered some opposition at Tuesday’s board’s meeting.

IPS teachers union president Rhondalyn Cornett and some board members said they were uncomfortable with the fact that IPS chose the organizations it wants to work with before putting out an open call for vendors. They argued that a public bid process of the type that the district typically uses when hiring outside vendors would ensure that IPS is fully transparent — and gets the best deal.

“I would have liked a more transparent process in terms of vetting people that we are giving millions of dollars to,” board member Gayle Cosby said. “I need to point out that a couple weeks ago I submitted an email to the entire board suggesting we … give other vendors a chance.”

The plans for Project Elevate — which would cause changes at up to two dozen schools by 2016 — call for IPS to contract with three nonprofits: IUPUI, Education Resource Strategies, and Public Impact.

Public Impact, based out of North Carolina, would help IPS identify high-performing teachers so that they can be paid to extend their reach, according to the plans. The group has played a role in local education policy in the past, issuing a scathing review of IPS’s internal operations in 2011 as part of a collaboration with The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis advocacy group.

Boston-based Education Resource Strategies would work with the district to map out existing resources and come up with a plan to reallocate dollars from the central office to the classroom. Board member Caitlin Hannon said the work is necessary if IPS wants to give teachers pay raises.

But the teachers union argued Hannon’s position as executive director of TeachPlus, a group that has worked with Education Resource Strategies, is a conflict of interest. Hannon, who has worked with district officials to shepherd the Project Elevate plan through to the board, recently worked with Education Resource Strategies on an event that brought 100 IPS teachers together to discuss pay structure issues.

“It makes me suspicious of the reason why this company was selected,” Cornett said at the meeting. She said the relationship between Hannon and ERS suggested that the board’s “toes are getting very close” to ethical lines.

Noting that no contracts are yet in place, Hannon said she would support sending out a request for proposals for the work that was initially proposed for ERS and Public Impact.

“If there are concerns about partners, we could do an RFP for phase two and phase three,” she said. “That’s certainly an option.”

After the meeting, Hannon emphasized that TeachPlus receives no benefit, financial or otherwise, from IPS contracting with the two organizations.

“I don’t have any financial relationship with ERS and I would not benefit directly or indirectly from their work,” she said. “My hope is simply that their work would benefit teachers and students, which is what excites me most about Elevate: the opportunity to focus our resources where they matter the most.”

Ferebee said he was surprised by board members’ concerns with the Project Elevate contractors. He said he appreciated the desire for transparency but emphasized that the district must start tackling its pay structure now if it is to prepare for formal contract talks with the teachers union, set to begin Aug. 1.

“You’d like to do it soon rather than later, but I understand the board’s perspective on making sure that you explore all options,” Ferebee said. Still, he added, “If we don’t get a provider before August first, we’re still going to go into the negotiation process.”

At the very least, Ferebee urged, the board should at its next meeting sign off on hiring IUPUI to draw up a new teacher assessment tool to be used in evaluations.

“It is so important that we address our performance management,” said Ferebee, who noted that IUPUI has worked successfully with the district in the past. “We’ve gotten feedback that teachers are not receiving proper feedback from administrators as it relates to evaluations and observations. We know that compensation is tied to our evaluation instrument.”

Board member Diane Arnold said it would be a mistake to approve only a “fragment” of Project Elevate, rather than the whole plan. “It’s imperative we begin to move on this,” she said. “What hasn’t worked in the past needs to be changed.”

That argument did not resonate with Cosby.

“Time is of the essence, but teachers have waited to get a raise,” she said to applause from the audience. “I’m sure they would rather get it right than rush it and get it wrong.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.