New IPS teachers contract pays bonuses based on performance

Teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools who were rated “effective” last fall can earn a $1,500 one-time pay bonus under a new contract approved Tuesday by the school board.

The deal did not include traditional, across-the-board raises that board member and union officials had said they hoped teachers would receive. Some IPS teachers have gone five years without a raise. The agreement is also well short of the total rethinking of how teachers are paid that board members and Superintendent Lewis Ferebee have said they want to explore.

But Ferebee said the contract represents progress toward those goals for the cash-strapped district’s nearly 2,500 teachers.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “We want to do as much as we can for teachers. This builds on an opportunity … so in the future we can do more.”

The new contract is built on a series of compromises between the union, for which more pay was a top priority, and the board, which sought flexibility:

  • The $1,500 “loyalty bonus” would be paid this fall to those deemed “highly effective” or “effective” based on their 2013-14 evaluations who returned to teach in IPS.
  • Instead of higher starting salaries for new teachers, the contract allows for flexibility to hire some teachers at higher rates than others based on their ability to teach a high-need subject or willingness to work in a low-performing school.
  • The district will stop its practice of paying more to teachers with advanced degrees, but those who already earn a higher salary because of a master’s degree or doctorate degree will continue to do so.
  • Teachers will have a chance to earn $5,000 stipends for taking on more responsibility, such as developing curriculum.
  • Health insurance premiums will cost employees more, but the district will pay the difference this year so teachers don’t have more out-of-pocket costs.

Union president Rhondalyn Cornett said she was satisfied overall with the outcome of the negotiations, which started Aug. 1.

“Teachers are stepping up and doing more things all the time,” she said. “It’s about time they get compensated for it. We wanted to see (an increase to the base salary), but the district explained it was a recurring cost.”

Most of IPS’ teachers are expected to earn the $1,500 bonus, although teachers rated as ineffective and those who need improvement won’t be eligible. Just five of the district’s teachers were rated ineffective in 2012-13 according to data released by the state this spring. Teacher effectiveness ratings from last school year haven’t been publicly released yet.

A controversial 2011 state law now requires teacher pay to be linked to merit, meaning teachers will be paid partly based on their students’ performance, including their scores on the state ISTEP test. This contract will be the first one IPS has negotiated since that took effect.

Meanwhile, IPS and other school districts have been tasked with overhauling their teacher evaluation systems, a process that the district is just starting to work on with IUPUI.

“Our hope is to continue to find more money to put into the pot,” board member Caitlin Hannon said. “We can do some creative things. We still have a long way to go to attract and retain the best talent.”

Board member Gayle Cosby, a former teacher, was the lone vote against approving the contract. She said the district should have done more to increase teacher pay.

“I realize that might not be the best position from a financial standpoint,” Cosby said. “It’s probably advantageous to take it slower, but I really had high hopes of better pay for teachers at this point.”

Cosby was also disappointed with that the district moved away from extra pay for teachers who earn advanced degrees. State law now requires that not more than a third of teacher raises can be based on additional degrees they earned.

“I would have preferred if we could find some happy medium, or some other way to celebrate educational attainment,” Cosby said.

But Hannon said that will allow the district to save millions of dollars over the long run as teachers retire, which it could then use to pay for higher starting salaries for teachers.