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.


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