With a strategic plan and teacher pay overhaul, will a new era dawn for IPS?

Jubilant Indianapolis Public School Board members tonight hailed an aggressive strategic plan and $12 million in pay raises for teachers as a potential turning point for the city’s schools.

“When we heard what we were going to be able to do, I got chills,” board member Mary Ann Sullivan said. “We are breaking through so we can really be competitive.”

By 6-0 votes, the board approved the three-year strategic plan and a new two-year contract with its teachers union. Both will make big shifts in the way the district does business.

The pay hikes — up to 12 percent for first-year teachers, as much as 10 percent for those in mid-career and 2.9 percent for those at the top of the pay scale — will haul IPS up from the bottom when compared with the other 10 Marion County districts. The deal also speeds up by nine years how quickly teachers reach the top pay rate. They’ll now get there in 16 years instead of 25 years.

The raises go into effect immediately and are retroactive to July.

The district, which has been raided of some of its best teachers by township and suburban schools during a base pay freeze dating to 2009, now ranks third for starting pay in Marion County, just behind Speedway and Wayne Township.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said IPS would also rank in the top quarter among county school districts for pay for mid-career teachers.

“Tonight is a major milestone on our path to transformation and progress for IPS,” Ferebee said. “We have launched a strategic plan that outlines excellence for IPS over the next three years. We also have a teacher collective bargaining agreement with the Indianapolis Education Association that is a hallmark of our commitment to competitive compensation in the district.”

If that wasn’t enough, the board also named Eli Lilly and Company executive and former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Michael O’Connor to replace Caitlin Hannon, who resigned earlier this month. O’Connor was picked from three finalists interviewed on Wednesday.

But most of the attention was on teacher pay. About 500 teachers, roughly a quarter of the district’s teaching force, are expected to get an immediate bump up to a new minimum starting salary of $40,000 from the old minimum, $35,684.

I’m pretty happy with it,” said union President Rhondalyn Cornett. “It’s a good deal for teachers.”

Nearly all teachers will get a raise, plus those who take on a series of newly created leadership roles can earn from $5,000 up to as much as $18,300.

About 93 percent of teachers who attended the union ratification vote were in favor, Cornett said.

Teacher evaluation scores will play an increasingly critical role in who gets raises going forward. Only teachers rated effective will be eligible for raises, and the contract explicitly states that both sides expect about 15 percent of teachers to fall short, much more than the past two years.

“I have some concerns about the evaluation system, but not a lot,” said Ann Wilkins of the Indiana State Teachers Association, who helped negotiate the deal. “We’ll make sure it’s done properly.”

Even with money redirected from those not getting raises to those who are, Ferebee said IPS might not be able to sustain the new system after two years if it cannot move aggressively to cut costs. The strategic plan calls for a series of steps to save money, from selling real estate to using less electricity. Shifting more control to schools should also continue to reduce the need for as many central office administrators.

Ferebee said millions in cuts and other money-saving changes the district made over the past two years helped raise the money to cover the raises in the contract, but a projected $16 million cut in state aid meant more savings was needed going forward.

“We’re not going to get more money from the state,” board member Sam Odle said. “We’re going to get less money from the state.”

Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand For Children, said teacher pay raises and the strategic plan would help move the district toward what IPS parents the group works with have asked for: a guarantee of effective teachers in all classrooms, principals in all schools and schools in all neighborhoods.

Stand pushes for educational change in IPS, especially by organizing parents. Ohlemiller said the next challenge was making sure all the ideas presented tonight work over the next three years.

“Execution is key,” he said. “Plans on paper don’t change kids lives. But we can now point to definite steps this administration has taken to achieve these goals.”

Odle hailed the broader strategic plan as supporting ideas for change the board members have pushed for: greater school autonomy, better academic choices for students and spending focused sharply on the classroom.

“We want make sure we are giving more options to our students,” he said.