Future of Schools

New Indianapolis Public Schools contract offers (small) raises for most teachers

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis Public Schools teachers will get a raise this year, under a contract approved by the board Tuesday.

The contract is retroactive, so teachers will get a windfall of pay going back to late July. Raises will range from $400 per year for experienced teachers to nearly $2,400 per year for teachers in their third year. The most experienced educators are not eligible for raises but can receive bonuses.

The contract, which covers the 2017-18 school year, was ratified by the union Monday, and approved by the board at its meeting Tuesday. It is not as generous for experienced teachers as the one it replaces, shrinking the potential raises they can earn. But it also avoids the pain that teachers endured during pay freezes that lasted from 2011 to 2015.

Since the district is operating at a deficit, negotiating raises for teachers at nearly every level of experience was a win for the union, said Indianapolis Education Association President Rhondalyn Cornett.

“We did the best we could with what we had,” she said. “I feel like we got blood from a turnip to be perfectly honest.”

Most teachers will get a raise of a little over 2 percent, said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Teachers also will not have significant increases in health insurance costs, he said.

“We also wanted teachers not to be frozen … which is difficult to rebound from,” Ferebee said. “We are still working through years of frozen salaries now to try to get our teachers at a better place.”

The raises are based on individual teachers moving up the pay scale because of positive evaluations and their experience in the district. But the amount teachers earn at each rung of the scale changes under the new contract. It gives teachers in their second year a much larger jump in pay than last year. It also reduces potential pay increases for teachers later in their careers.

Under the contract, teachers who are rated effective or highly effective and who have worked in the district at least 120 days during the prior school year will receive raises. The bottom ($40,000) and the top ($59,400) pay for teachers will hold steady. (Teachers already at the top of the pay range will be eligible for one-time bonuses of $1,188 this year.)

The middle of the salary scale will change, however, with teachers earning about $1,293 more when they move up a step. That’s a change from last year, when teachers got different raises (ranging from $200 to $2,300) depending on where they were on the pay scale. The changes are required so that the contract complies with new state regulations.

Another notable change in the contract is a pilot program that will allow the district to place newly hired teachers anywhere on the pay scale — in consultation with the union — regardless of experience. That opens the door for the district to pay extra to hire teachers for hard-to-fill positions, such as for the new high school career academies, special education or at particularly hard-to-staff schools.

“We just know that there are certain content areas or positions that demand a higher compensation,” Ferebee said. “It is a trend in the market we are in now. Teachers shop employers. They are looking for the best compensation to support their families, and IPS needs to be in the mix.”

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial. State lawmakers have repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, proposed bills that would allow districts to pay some teachers more than the union-negotiated pay scale.

Earlier this year, the district used a little-known provision in state law to remove teachers at John Marshall Middle School from the district union. IPS leaders told Chalkbeat it was so they could pay teachers more. An email the administration sent educators offered math teachers $7,000 and science and English teachers $5,000 to transfer to the troubled school.

The contract also includes bonuses of $2,500 to $5,000 to entice high school teachers to stay with the district as it reconfigures high schools.

The contract continues to offer teachers stipends of up to $18,300 for positions that are part of “opportunity culture,” a leadership program where skilled educators work with multiple classrooms.

The hourly pay for teachers involved in workshops, curriculum-writing and tutoring increased slightly. The minimum rate rose to $20 per hour, and the maximum increased to $40 per hour, depending on the task.

Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis struggles to balance how much money schools need with what people will pay

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Without a massive influx of cash from taxpayers, Indianapolis’ largest school district could be in dire financial straits. But the fate of the referendums asking voters for more money is in limbo.

Even as the Indianapolis Public Schools board revealed plans to reduce how much money it is seeking from voters, the administration portrayed the district’s financial future as precarious. During a board discussion Thursday, officials underscored how critical it would be for the tax increase to pass. It’s unclear, however, whether the district will get the extra cash it needs to avoid making painful cuts.

Critics have suggested the request — $936 million over eight years — is too high and that the district has not offered enough detail on how the money raised would be spent. With only tepid support for the tax plan, district leaders appear poised to reduce the amount they are seeking. That move could win over new allies, but it could also undercut their efforts to gain support.

Next year, the administration is expecting spending could outpace income by more than $45 million. The plan for filling that gap hinges on raising more than $46 million from a referendum that will go before voters in May.

Without that extra money, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said, the district would have to burn through its savings or make vast cuts that could include freezing teacher pay, cutting school budgets, and reducing transportation.

The district would need to begin making cuts immediately, said board member Kelly Bentley. “It’s just going to get worse the next year, and the next year,” she added.

The district’s future will look brighter if leaders are able to win public support for more funding, although it’s no longer clear how much money they will ask for. The original plan, which was approved by the board in December, includes two referendums to raise property taxes. One would ask voters to give the district as much as $92 million more per year for eight years for operating expenses such as teacher pay. Another measure, which the district is not expected to change, would pay for $200 million in improvements to buildings.

Ferebee said the amount he originally proposed was based on what the district needs rather than what would be politically feasible. In the face of community feedback, however, the district is crafting a plan that would have a lower price tag. Next, the district will need to explain what services will be cut to keep down costs, he said.

“I anticipate people will want to know, ‘what are the tradeoffs?’ ” Ferebee said. “We owe it to the community to provide that explanation, and we will.”

Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008, when state lawmakers created the current school funding system. About 60 percent of those referendums have been successful, according to data from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Stephen Hiller, who has been studying referendums with the center for nearly a decade, said that it’s likely that many districts have had to reconcile how much money they would ideally want with how much taxpayers might be willing to pay. But that conversation likely happens before a referendum is announced and approved by the board.

“I think IPS has it a little more difficult here that it’s happening in the open after they’ve approved it in a very public way,” he added.

School board president Michael O’Connor said that the district’s willingness to change the plan is a sign that local government works.

“We live in the community within which we serve, and all of us have heard pretty plainly and clearly, ‘we think that number might be too big,’ ” he said. “We are being responsive to our constituents.”

Reducing the referendum could be enough to win over many supporters. Several groups that have supported the current administration in the past have not yet taken a stand.

Tony Mason of the Indianapolis Urban League said in a statement that the district needs more money to pay high-quality teachers and meet the needs of its diverse students. But he raised concerns about the potential impact of the tax increase on residents with fixed- or low-incomes.

“IPS will still need to continue in its efforts to make the case for the substantial amount it is requesting,” Mason said. “The IUL is an avid supporter of education, particularly for urban schools that struggle with unique challenges.”

Chelsea Koehring, who taught in the district and now has two children at the Butler Lab School, shares the view that the district needs more money. But leaders have not offered enough details about how the money would be spent, she said, and changing the request raises red flags.

“People, you should’ve had this together before you asked,” she said. “Lowering it at this point — I don’t know that that’s going to instill confidence in anyone that they have any clue what they are doing.”

Correction: February 17, 2018: This story has been corrected to reflect that Indiana districts have pursued more than 160 property tax referendums since 2008. Some districts have held multiple referendums.