Union backers say bill could wreck Indiana's teacher pay system

Teachers in high-demand jobs — like science, math or foreign language — would be free to try to negotiate better pay even beyond what their school’s union scales allow under a bill the Indiana House will consider next week.

That was a surprise to some during discussion in the House Ways & Means Committee today: that the change would apply to people who want to stay in their jobs, not just applicants from outside a school.

That could upend the delicate balance of Indiana’s system for paying teachers, critics said.

The bill, House Bill 1004, is designed to allow districts to decide where teachers up for hard-to-fill positions would fall on the district’s pay scale without going through their unions. But it doesn’t just apply to new teachers who are looking to take a job — teachers already in hard-to-fill jobs could demand a pay raise if their schools want them to stay, the bill’s author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, told the committee during debate today.

“Superintendents testified about the fact that we have shortage areas, especially in your urban and rural areas,” Behning said. “The goal is to do what we can to provide flexibility and opportunities for our school districts and our schools.”

The bill would also let teachers with licenses from other states teach in Indiana if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject area they want to teach and a college GPA of 3.0 or higher. Transferring teachers would also have to pass subject tests that are required for Indiana’s teacher licenses, but they wouldn’t have to pass other required exams on teaching theory or undergo CPR and suicide prevention training.

Licensing more out-of-state teachers could increase administrative costs for districts to check out-of-state teachers credentials, according an evaluation of the bill’s fiscal impact. But it would depend heavily on the individual actions of each district and whether they hire more out-of-state teachers or not. A district wouldn’t be allowed to have more than 10 percent of its teachers with out-of-state licenses.

Salaries could also increase if districts choose to hire teachers in hard-to-fill positions and pay them more. The bill offered no details of what those projected costs might be.

But like earlier this week when the bill went before the House Education Committee, the Indiana State Teachers Association said the bill would not only take away negotiating power from unions, it would let district leaders favor some teachers at the expense of others.

“(The bill has) been couched in the framework of alleviating the teacher shortage, when in fact, the two biggest components that are left in this bill we believe will exacerbate the teacher shortage,” said Gail Zeheralis, a lobbyist with ISTA, the state’s largest teachers union. “That unilateral authority will come, and then the leftovers get put on the bargaining table for everybody else.”

Paying some teachers more than others while still attempting to fulfill existing salary contracts would mean districts would need more money, said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. Otherwise the district’s other teachers would get less.

“It’s just economics,” Delaney said.

Behning said schools have historically had the ability to pay some teachers more than others within collective bargaining agreements. Indiana should trust its superintendents to make good choices for their schools, he said.

“Superintendents are part of our educational leadership, they are responsible, they have to collaborate with leaders,” Behning said. “I can’t imagine they are going to create ill will, but they’re going to be able to have this tool to find those more difficult positions.”

The bill’s intent, Behning said, was to give districts more control to ease hiring problems that some schools have seen when trying to find qualified teacher candidates. But Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, who is superintendent of Crothersville schools, said the bill would do the exact opposite by discouraging teachers from wanting to work in Indiana.

“This is bad public policy,” Goodin said. “As a superintendent, I’m telling you this … is not the right direction to go in if we want teachers to come into the profession.”

The committee also approved House Bill 1395, which passed earlier this week. The amended bill now requires the Indiana State Board of Education to decide whether to mandate the Indiana Department of Education to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test. The bill also creates committees to study the future of Indiana’s testing program and A-F accountability system. If passed, the bill also “repeals ISTEP as we know it,” Behning said, by July 1, 2017.

The 14-8 vote was split along party lines, with Democrat members opposed to continuing to fund efforts associated with “a test that no one believes in,” Delaney said. Behning said the rescore is important for next year’s new A-F grade model, which significantly factors in student test score growth from the prior year.

Although this year’s ISTEP test experienced a series of glitches, and scoring and design problems, Behning said the test itself was valid, but the administration of it by the education department and test company was flawed.

An independent validity study conducted by the state board of education found no “substantial” problems with the test that would “fundamentally undermine” scores, said Cynthia Roach, the board’s testing director.

“They did find issues that need to be addressed,” Roach said at Tuesday’s state board meeting. “But the results … were determined to be valid.”

Both bills are next headed to the full House.

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