Teacher, parents tell the IPS school board to skip a raise for Ferebee

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

A handful of parents and educators spoke out against a proposed raise for Superintendent Lewis Ferebee at an Indianapolis School Board hearing tonight, calling on the district to spend the money on other needs.

The board is considering modifying Ferebee’s contract to extend the term to 2019 and bump his potential pay to $287,000 per year beyond the benefits all administrators receive. That’s about $64,000 above his current pay maximum.

Fewer than ten community members trekked out to the first public hearing on the contract change, held at School 103 on the far Northeast side of the district. But those who spoke to the board were clear that they would like to see the district skip the raise for Ferebee and spend the money on supplies and teacher pay.

(Read: IPS Board will consider a big pay raise and contract extension for Ferebee.)

The proposed increase in Ferebee’s pay comes at the same time as the district is beginning to pay raises and back pay to teachers. The raises, which were the first teachers received in 5 years, were promised at the start of the year but they were held up by delays in ISTEP scores.

Some teachers are critical of offering a raise for Ferebee that significantly exceeds the raises educators received.

Keith Parrish, a behavior specialist at School 54, said that it’s not right to give Ferebee a raise after just two years with the district.

“We’ve got thousands of teachers that are still teaching at the same level that they were five years ago,” he said. “We did get a raise, but it felt like a slap in the face … to get a small raise and then to have this happen.”

For parents who spoke at the hearing, the primary concern was the cost of the raise.

Yolanda Wilkins, a parent at Crispus Attucks High School, said she spends about three days a week volunteering in the school, and she sees textbook and teacher shortages first hand.

“I’ve seen a lot of book sharing,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of teachers make photocopies of pages so that every kid can at least get the assignment. And I don’t think that’s acceptable.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Ferebee said that he had followed up with school staff who said that Crispus Attucks has “ample textbooks for every content area.”

But Dorain Moore Sr., also a parent from Crispus Attucks, echoed Wilkins’ concern that the school doesn’t have enough teachers or textbooks. It’s teachers and students who deserve a raise, he said.

“It doesn’t make any difference if Ferebee stays or if he goes,” Moore said. “If this is about giving him a raise in order to stay, he can go.”

Ferebee recently received national notice for his work in Indianapolis when Education Week magazine named him a “Leader to Learn From,” which could make him an attractive prospect for other districts seeking superintendents.

Board President Mary Ann Sullivan said that the board had not explicitly discussed any pressure to increase Ferebee’s pay to keep him in the district, but retention is always a factor in pay decisions.

“We feel like we’re making a lot of great progress and we’re pleased with his leadership,” she said. “We want to make sure that he’s pleased to continue being a leader with us.”

The board is reviewing Ferebee’s contract now because it is set to expire June 30, 2017, and board members want to avoid a last-minute extension, Sullivan said.

The raise and additional benefits the board included put Ferebee’s compensation package in the same range as other superintendents in Marion County, she said.

Ferebee declined to say whether he has been approached by other districts, but he said he’s not looking to leave.

“I’m not driven by dollars and cents,” Ferebee said. “This is an opportunity for me that I think has been great, and my eyes aren’t on other opportunities right now. My eyes are on IPS.”

There are two more opportunities to weigh in on the proposed contract change at school board meetings at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 and Feb. 25 at 120 E. Walnut St. before the board votes.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede