IPS will pay consultant $200,000 to help overhaul teacher pay

Indianapolis Public Schools has called in outside help to design a new teacher compensation model in the district’s rush to develop a plan for the future before negotiation with the teachers union begins next month.

Board members at a special meeting last week narrowly approved a plan to pay Boston-based nonprofit Education Resource Strategies $200,000 over four months to help the district reimagine how and what it pays teachers while working within tight budget constraints. IPS, which lags behind some of Marion County township districts when it comes to teacher pay, has struggled recruiting and retaining teachers. Officials say salary is a major stumbling block. Because of tight finances in recent years some IPS teachers have gone five years without a raise.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says the purpose of working with ERS, which has helped other urban public school districts with the same task, is to prepare for negotiations with the union by developing a “cost-sustainable strategy that helps IPS achieve short-term goals while also setting the foundation for deeper transformation” in the way the district evaluates and pays teachers.

District officials and the teachers union seem to agree on some key points when it comes to teacher compensation — including the fact that increasing teachers’ starting salaries will be necessary for the district to be more competitive with nearby districts. Current starting teacher salary at IPS is $35,650.

But IPS board member Caitlin Hannon, who has championed ERS, said the parties don’t necessarily know what steps to take to arrive there, which is where the nonprofit could help. Even a modest 2 percent raise for IPS teachers carries with it a roughly $4 million price tag, Ferebee has said.

“My hope is this helps us actually act on the values that it seems we all share,” Hannon said.

She previously worked with ERS through an organization she leads known as TeachPlus at a recent event that included nearly 150 IPS teachers completing hands-on exercises that forced them to think through tough questions about teacher pay. TeachPlus is a national organization that aims to get teachers involved in education policy. Hannon is its executive director for Indianapolis.

Momentum building for “Project Elevate”

The board’s approval of the plan to work with ERS means that Supt. Lewis Ferebee and administrators are one step closer to moving forward with a $2.35 million plan known as “Project Elevate” to overhaul teacher pay and compensation throughout the district.

IPS recently approved the first part of the plan — a nearly $85,000 contract with IUPUI to help improve the district’s teacher evaluation system.

Not everyone was supportive of the district’s new relationship with ERS.

Three board members — Gayle Cosby, Michael Brown and Samantha Adair-White — voted against the plan for the district to work with the nonprofit. It passed the seven-member board by a narrow one-vote margin.

Along with the teachers union, they previously expressed concerns over IPS’ decision not to put out a request for bids from other contractors who might have ideas to improve the district. The teachers union also questioned Hannon’s past relationship with ERS because TeachPlus worked with the organization for the hands-on exercise.

Cosby said she voted against the plan not because she isn’t supportive of the company’s work, but because she thinks the district needs to be more transparent. She also said she wondered if a competitive process would have resulted in a lower cost for the services.

“I would have been completely fine if they had won the bid, but I thought that it would be a good idea to try to get some diversity through the bidding process,” Cosby said. “I hope that the steps that we’re taking are going to end up preparing us to bring a fair package to the table (when negotiation begins).”

Work beginning immediately

Work redesigning the teacher compensation system will start right away as officials prepare for union negotiations. State law dictates that talks can begin Aug. 1, and Ferebee has said he wants a swift resolution with the union over the new contract.

ERS will receive $50,000 per month from the district through October to analyze teacher pay spending patterns and trends at the district and in other areas, present different teacher pay ideas to the district and adapt a compensation model it has used in other cities for the district to use in the future.

“I would be reluctant to say ‘Here’s how it’s going to look in Indianapolis,'” said David Rosenberg, manager and practice leader for strategic initiatives at ERS. “It’s going to vary by context, but one thing we have seen in other places that can be effective is finding ways to compensate teachers more if they are taking on more challenging assignments, moving them to a higher need school or taking on responsibilities where they can leverage their skills and expand their impact.”

The nonprofit will not have an official role in the contract negotiation process, according to the contract signed by ERS and the district, but will be “available for ongoing advisement on counterproposals” and help the district estimate costs throughout the process.

“The idea was to move forward on this so we can get ourselves in a good place for August,” Hannon said.


Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

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