Ferebee wants IPS teachers to work five more days

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
An elementary school teacher at one of Indianapolis Public Schools' priority schools describes the qualities of her favorite teacher during the 2014 Priority Schools Summer Institute.

Indianapolis Public Schools teachers say Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s plan to improve instruction by adding five training days to the calendar starting next school year will end up costing them.

The district’s labor contract with its teachers union currently calls for them to work up to 190 days, but the district calendar only requires them to come to work 185 days. In essence, teachers get five extra days off, a benefit some say helps make amends for some of the lost income they’ve incurred over five years without a raise.

“Teachers need professional development, but I don’t know that our time is being used wisely within the school day,” said Northwest High School Spanish teacher Katherine Hinkle. “Rather than adding more days (into) our contract, I propose we give schools more freedom and encourage schools to come … up with their own professional development.”

The labor deal expires June 30, which means the length of the contract year could be up for debate.

But Ferebee has asked board members to vote next week to approve the 2015-16 and 2016-17 calendars. The district can’t expect to improve its academic performance if it doesn’t strengthen teacher training, he said. That means putting teachers to work for the full 190 days, he said.

“It’s so needed, and I would hope that our teachers would value that,” Ferebee said. “We’re not talking about additional work days in the classroom with students. We’re talking about opportunities to get better. That’s a better model than asking teachers to come in over the summer.”

IPS has struggled to effectively recruit and retain teachers. But the district also ranks near the bottom in Marion County school for the amount of time dedicated to teacher training, Ferebee said. Simply adding training time before, during or after a regular school day isn’t as effective as dedicating a full day to it without students, he said.

“I’ve been an elementary teacher,” Ferebee said. “By the time I took my students to music and P.E. (classes), made a phone call, used the restroom, it was time to go back. It’s hard to get that type of work done during the day.”

Several teachers at Tuesday’s school board meeting criticized Ferebee’s plan. Other proposed changes to the IPS calendar include transitioning Thanksgiving break from a full week off into a three-day week.

Board member Gayle Cosby had concerns with the plan.

“Our morale is pretty low,” she said. “Anything we do to weaken that further should be very carefully considered.”

Teachers union president Rhondalyn Cornett said the union will push even harder for a raise during contract negotiations if board members approve the new calendar.

This year’s contract awarded teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective” with a $1,500 bonus, but did not increase base pay. IPS currently is working with an outside consultant to overhaul its teacher pay and promotion strategy.

“They can do this, and we’ll talk to (Ferebee) when bargaining starts,” Cornett said. “It is what it is. I understand what IPS is saying, but I understand what my teachers say, and I’ve got to represent them.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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