The Indianapolis Public School Board on Thursday approved hiring a new “talent officer,” with a $125,000 salary, to help Superintendent Lewis Ferebee solve the district’s latest staffing challenge: filling 300 vacant teacher and staff positions by the first day of school on Aug. 3.

But some teachers, who haven’t had a raise in more than five years, took offense at the district’s decision to spend the equivalent of three and a half first-year teacher salaries  — $35,684 — to create a new central office administrative position.

“Every time you see a new position or a six-figure salary, it’s a slap in the face,” said Angela Covell-Tipton, a middle school teacher at Key Learning Community who this year was a finalist for the prestigious Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award. “It seems excessive given the current needs we have. It just feels like it’s a respect issue. We feel under-appreciated.”

But board member Kelly Bentley said the district has a serious problem with staff turnover and it needs a clear strategy going forward to keep talented people in the district.
“Teachers have a legitimate reason for being frustrated,” Bentley said. “We’re trying to think of the long term health of the district. Recruiting really good people is an important talent for someone to have. Unfortunately, the district has not done a very good job of that in the past. If this helps with that, it’s definitely money well spent.”
Ferebee announced in May that he planned to give teachers a salary raise next year. He and his team have acknowledged that keeping good teachers in the district is tough when, in some cases, they can go a few miles away and make much more. A teacher who stays at IPS for 25 years could lose as much as $235,000 over a career compared to someone in the same position less than 10 miles away in Decatur Township, according to a 2010 study by Teach Plus called “The Cost of Loyalty.”
Covell-Tipton said five of her teacher friends left this year, some to take jobs nearby. It gets harder to stay every year, she said.
“They qualify to be on public assistance as a teacher,” Covell-Tipton said. “It’s insulting. We’re professionals. IPS teachers love the kids and that’s why we’re here.”
The new talent officer position is part of a restructuring of the human resources office, Ferebee said. The board tonight also approved hiring a new human resources operations officer for $145,000 per year.
Mindy Schlegel, a former Indiana Department of Education official under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, was hired for the talent officer position. She currently is a policy fellow with Public Impact, which is working with IPS on a new staffing model design.
Lela Hester was hired for the human resources officer position. She previously has consulted for IPS, and used to work with Ferebee at Durham Public Schools in North Carolina.
The board approved the hires 6-1, with board member Gayle Cosby voting against them.
 “I don’t feel it’s aligned with our overall goal of streamlining (the) central office,” Cosby said. “It just doesn’t sit well with me.”
IPS teachers union President Rhondalyn Cornett said she doesn’t like the idea of adding another highly paid administrator.
“In the beginning, when (Ferebee) came, he was streamlining,” Cornett said. “But it seems to me that we keep slowly adding people back.”
Board President Diane Arnold dismissed that concern.
“If we want the best teachers and we want to retain we have to do something to make that happen,” Arnold said. “We haven’t done it in the past. We have to figure out a different way to do it.”