School Finance

IPS Board will consider a big pay raise and contract extension for Ferebee

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee could receive a big pay bump and a two-year contract extension if the Indianapolis Public School Board approves a proposed change to his contract announced this afternoon.

The amendment would raise Ferebee’s pay in several ways, boasting his total potential compensation to more than $287,000 per year beyond the benefits all administrators receive.

The new contract would raise his base salary to $209,880, up 6 percent from his current salary of $198,000. The raise would be retroactive to July 1, 2015. He would also be eligible for a $35,000 per year bonus, based on his performance. Ferebee may currently earn a bonus of up to $25,000 per year, and last year he was awarded $21,000.

The announcement of Ferebee’s raise coincides with the district sending a letter today telling teachers their long-delayed raises would be paid this month, also with retroactive pay to July 2015. Under the proposed contract, Ferebee would not receive a raise in 2016-2017, and in the following years, any raises he receives would mirror the average salary increase for teachers.

But the bulk of Ferebee’s pay increase would come in the form of more than $30,000 a year in new contributions to Ferebee’s retirement savings. Under his current contract, Ferebee receives the same benefits as other IPS administrative certified employees, including retirement benefits. If the amendment is approved, the district would make an additional retirement contribution of 15 percent of his base annual salary. With the proposed raise, that would be $31,482 per year. Ferebee also receives a $12,000 per year stipend for using his own car.

The amendment would extend his contract by two years, to June 30, 2019, with an automatic extension each year that he receives an effective or highly effective evaluation. His current contract is set to expire June 30, 2017. But extending the contract does not guarantee he will stay with the district. He is free to resign or retire at any time.

One reason why the board may be considering such a dramatic pay bump is to reduce the chance of Ferebee getting poached by another urban district. Ferebee has won praise during his two-year tenure, and he was recently spotlighted by Education Week magazine as a “Leader to Learn From.”

Ferebee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

IPS Board President Mary Ann Sullivan was not immediately available for comment. But in December, she gave Ferebee a glowing review when discussing his evaluation and the performance bonus he received.

“It was a very positive, positive review and positive conversation,” she told Chalkbeat. “We have high expectations. …  (But) I think I would be proud to get the evaluation he got for his work.”

Even with the raise, Ferebee’s pay will still be below the average salary for a superintendent in an urban school district with fewer than 50,000 students. That was $211,000 per year in 2014, according to a survey by the Council of Great City Schools.

The amendment would also create a new bonus pool for members of the leadership team, equal to the bonus Ferebee receives.

The IPS Board will hold a public hearing on the contract amendment 6 p.m., Feb. 16 at School 103.


More than 1,000 Memphis school employees will get raise to $15 per hour

PHOTO: Katie Kull

About 1,200 Memphis school employees will see their wages increase to $15 per hour under a budget plan announced Tuesday evening.

The raises would would cost about $2.4 million, according to Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance.

The plan for Shelby County Schools, the city’s fifth largest employer, comes as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had come to Memphis in 1968 to promote living wages.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson read from King’s speech to sanitation workers 50 years and two days ago as they were on strike for fair wages:

“Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life or our nation. They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation … And it is criminal to have people working on a full time basis and a full time job getting part time income.”

Hopson also cited a “striking” report that showed an increase in the percent of impoverished children in Shelby County. That report from the University of Memphis was commissioned by the National Civil Rights Museum to analyze poverty trends since King’s death.

“We think it’s very important because so many of our employees are actually parents of students in our district,” Hopson said.

The superintendent of Tennessee’s largest district frequently cites what he calls “suffocating poverty” for many of the students in Memphis public schools as a barrier to academic success.

Most of the employees currently making below $15 per hour are warehouse workers, teaching assistants, office assistants, and cafeteria workers, said Johnson.

The threshold of $15 per hour is what many advocates have pushed to increase the federal minimum wage. The living wage in Memphis, or amount that would enable families of one adult and one child to support themselves, is $21.90, according to a “living wage calculator” produced by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Board members applauded the move Tuesday but urged Hopson to make sure those the district contracts out services to also pay their workers that same minimum wage.

“This is a bold step for us to move forward as a district,” said board chairwoman Shante Avant.

after parkland

Tennessee governor proposes $30 million for student safety plan

Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing spending an extra $30 million to improve student safety in Tennessee, both in schools and on school buses.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday proposed spending an extra $30 million to improve student safety in Tennessee, joining the growing list of governors pushing similar actions after last month’s shooting rampage at a Florida high school.

But unlike other states focusing exclusively on safety inside of schools, Haslam wants some money to keep students safe on school buses too — a nod to several fatal accidents in recent years, including a 2016 crash that killed six elementary school students in Chattanooga.

“Our children deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment,” Haslam said in presenting his safety proposal in an amendment to his proposed budget.

The Republican governor only had about $84 million in mostly one-time funding to work with for extra needs this spring, and school safety received top priority. Haslam proposed $27 million for safety in schools and $3 million to help districts purchase new buses equipped with seat belts.

But exactly how the school safety money will be spent depends on recommendations from Haslam’s task force on the issue, which is expected to wind up its work on Thursday after three weeks of meetings. Possibilities include more law enforcement officers and mental health services in schools, as well as extra technology to secure school campuses better.

“We don’t have an exact description of how those dollars are going to be used. We just know it’s going to be a priority,” Haslam told reporters.

The governor acknowledged that $30 million is a modest investment given the scope of the need, and said he is open to a special legislative session on school safety. “I think it’s a critical enough issue,” he said, adding that he did not expect that to happen. (State lawmakers cannot begin campaigning for re-election this fall until completing their legislative work.)

Education spending already is increased in Haslam’s $37.5 billion spending plan unveiled in January, allocating an extra $212 million for K-12 schools and including $55 million for teacher pay raises. But Haslam promised to revisit the numbers — and specifically the issue of school safety — after a shooter killed 14 students and three faculty members on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, triggering protests from students across America and calls for heightened security and stricter gun laws.

Haslam had been expected to roll out a school safety plan this spring, but his inclusion of bus safety was a surprise to many. Following fatal crashes in Hamilton and Knox counties in recent years, proposals to retrofit school buses with seat belts have repeatedly collapsed in the legislature under the weight the financial cost.

The new $3 million investment would help districts begin buying new buses with seat belts but would not address existing fleets.

“Is it the final solution on school bus seat belts? No, but it does [make a start],” Haslam said.

The governor presented his school spending plan on the same day that the House Civil Justice Committee advanced a controversial bill that would give districts the option of arming some trained teachers with handguns. The bill, which Haslam opposes, has amassed at least 45 co-sponsors in the House and now goes to the House Education Administration and Planning Committee.

“I just don’t think most teachers want to be armed,” Haslam told reporters, “and I don’t think most school boards are going to authorize them to be armed, and I don’t think most people are going to want to go through the training.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.