Indiana

IPS teachers push for more pay through 'Elevate IPS'

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Last year, more than 150 IPS teachers assembled teacher compensation plans for a fictional school district from a variety of policy options as part of a TeachPlus event. Now teachers are pushing to try new strategies to raise teacher pay.

Tina Ahlgren started getting nervous last year as she sifted through lists of names of Indianapolis Public Schools teachers who had decided not return for another year without a raise.

The Shortridge High School math teacher — IPS’s 2014 teacher of the year — said she was disappointed but not surprised to see some of her highest-performing colleagues on a list of resignations — including a finalist for the prestigious Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award.

“It wasn’t the new teachers, or the ones who can’t cut it,” Ahlgren said. “It wasn’t the retirees. It was the middle people … who had really tried to stick it out after five years of no increase. That’s scary.”

Ahlgren is leading a new coalition of both union and nonunion teachers called “Elevate IPS.” The group is advocating for a pay raise in next year’s contract, which if approved would be the first in more than five years.

The goal is preventing another exodus of IPS teachers to nearby districts — where the pay can be as much as 10 to 25 percent higher — and keeping good teachers in the classrooms with some of the city’s neediest children.

“It’s not even about retaining or getting quality teachers,” Ahlgren said. “We’re having trouble getting warm bodies in IPS. We really need to help close this pay gap. When we lose people, we’re losing our best people.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who has previously said he wants to give teachers a raise, said he is encouraged by the group and wants to work with them to find ways to improve pay. Union president Rhondalyn Cornett also said she supported it at a recent board meeting.

This year, Ferebee said, the district couldn’t afford the recurring cost that an across-the-board raise to base salaries would bring. So instead IPS’s contract with the union gave teachers a one-time, $1,500 performance bonus.

“Seeing a group of teachers come together around this could be huge for IPS,” Ferebee said. “Having an organized group of teachers outside of the (union) bargaining unit is very fascinating because we haven’t had that in the past. Anything and everything we can do to address compensation, I’m on board.”

But state budget changes still looming in the legislature could scuttle Ferebee’s plan to work a raise into the budget. Lawmakers are still in the process of approving the state’s next two-year budget.

The district stands to lose $18 million or more if changes to the state’s funding formula changes approved by the House last month become law. The Senate has not yet approved a budget and those numbers are likely to change.

But will they change enough for teachers to get a raise? Ferebee is worried about how the legislature’s decisions could affect the district’s bottom line, and could block efforts to pay raises.

“I’m not saying it will stop our work,” Ferebee said, “but it definitely compromises our ability to do so.”

Teachers who are part of Elevate IPS hope to make an appearance at the Statehouse before the budget negotiations are finalized. Ferebee said he wants to join them.

“I think that we need those same teachers with me when I’m testifying on the floor talking to legislators about our progress,” Ferebee said.

Harshman Middle School teacher Madeline Mason, one of 10 finalists for IPS’s Teacher of the Year award, urged board members to take the issue seriously when she spoke in front of the IPS school board last week on the group’s behalf.

“We’re about moving away from complaining in the hallways and in the teachers lounge and actually about taking action,” Mason said.

But IPS school board member Sam Odle said teachers are going to need to support the district making some tough spending cuts over the next few years if they want raises.

“The legislature is going to give us less money,” Odle said. “The option isn’t for us to print our own.”

Negotiations over a new contract with the union won’t take place again until next fall. But Ahlgren said it’s important for teachers who may be considering leaving the district to learn sooner rather than later if they can expect an increase in pay. Board members last summer said they were concerned when a sea of late resignations flooded in just before the school year.

Even an incremental increase would be appreciated, Ahlgren said, to slow the growing earnings gap between teachers in IPS and nearby districts.

A 2010 study by Teach Plus called “The Cost of Loyalty” found that a teacher who stays at IPS for 25 years stands to lose about $235,000 over a lifetime compared to a colleague in the same position less than 10 miles away in Decatur Township.

“We know that IPS can’t make up a $14,000 pay gap in one contract,” Ahlgren said. “It’s going to take a show of faith of a significant step in the right direction.”

Teacher pay can have real impact on student learning, the group says.

An inability to recruit teachers leads to vacancies, Ahlgren said. As recently as mid-March the district had about 65 unfilled teaching positions.

“At the elementary level when there’s teachers missing, the classrooms get consolidated and you end up with bigger class sizes,” Ahlgren said. “At the high school level, we just set permanent substitutes who may not be licensed or qualified.”

Effective teachers are also heavily recruited by other districts.

School 39 teacher Abby Taylor, who has been moved eight times to teach at different schools during her nine years in IPS, said it’s becoming harder and harder each year to stay with the district without a raise. She said she sometimes gets an offer to leave as often as every week.

“When word gets around you are a leader in your building, they’re going to ask you to come,” said Taylor, who is a member of Elevate IPS.

But the kids keep Taylor in IPS — for now.

“It shouldn’t have to be a choice between your family at home and your school family,” Taylor said. “We’re choosing both. We can’t do that forever.”

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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