School Finance

Short of its goal, 87 retiring teachers will get $20,000 payments from Indianapolis Public Schools

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Eighty-seven educators who are retiring at the end of this year will get $20,000 payments from Indianapolis Public Schools, slightly below the district’s goal.

The payments were available to educators who notified the district by April 20 they planned to retire. The district emailed teachers Monday that the agreement was approved and they would receive the payments.

The state’s largest district is in the midst of cutting about $22.4 million from the budget for next year after delaying a request for more funding from taxpayers. If the administration is not able to save enough with other cuts, the district may decide to lay off teachers.

Nearly 250 educators were eligible for the retirement offer. When it was announced, the agreement specified that between 100 and 150 educators would need to retire for the administration to go forward with the plan. Although slightly fewer teachers volunteered to retire, the plan was approved.

“I’m happy that even though they didn’t get the number they were looking for … they still went forward with it,” said Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the Indianapolis Education Association. “I’m sad that I’m going to lose so many good teachers.”

District officials said the retirement incentive was not exclusively about saving money — it was designed to encourage teachers who planned to retire to notify the district early so principals would have more information as they plan hiring for next year.

Making $20,000 payments to 87 teachers will cost the district $1.74 million. But ultimately, it could also save the district money. Some teachers may not be replaced, and even if the district needs to hire teachers to fill their positions, hiring less experienced educators typically costs less.

Teachers needed to be eligible for retirement under the rules of the Indiana Public Retirement System to take the offer. That includes teachers as young as 55 if they have at least 30 years of service. The money will be contributed to their retirement accounts.

Geoff Davis teaches at School 56. After 33 years of teaching, he already intended to retire early but the incentive is a nice extra cushion, he said. Davis, who is 55, is planning to open a woodworking and music studio. “This is more of a career change than a retirement for me,” he said.

Davis said that $20,000 would not have been enough money to persuade him to retire early, because he was happy at School 56. But there were other times when he was unhappy in a job that he might’ve taken the deal, he said.

Cornett said she hadn’t heard from teachers who chose to retire because of the $20,000 offer. Some teachers will need to pay for health insurance when they retire, so the incentive might not have been enough to persuade some of them, Cornett said. But it could be a carrot for those who were on the fence.

“I don’t know how many of them really had planned on retiring,” she said. “But I don’t think it was as many as probably decided to.”

Local funding

Aurora board to consider placing school tax hike on November ballot

A kindergarten teacher at Kenton Elementary in Aurora, Colorado helps a student practice saying and writing numbers on a Thursday afternoon in February 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Seeking to boost student health and safety and raise teacher pay, Aurora school officials will consider asking voters to approve a $35 million tax plan in November.

The school board will hear its staff’s proposal for the proposed ballot measure Tuesday. The board may discuss the merits of the plan but likely would not decide whether to place it on the ballot until at least the following week.

Aurora voters in 2016 approved a bond request which allowed the district to take on $300 million in debt for facilities, including the replacement building for Mrachek Middle School, and building a new campus for a charter school from the DSST network.

But this year’s proposed tax request is for a mill levy override, which is ongoing local money that is collected from property taxes and has less limitations for its use.

Aurora officials are proposing to use the money, estimated to be $35 million in 2019, to expand staff and training for students’ mental health services, expanding after-school programs for elementary students, adding seat belts to school buses, and boosting pay “to recruit and retain high quality teachers.”

The estimated cost for homeowners would be $98.64 per year, or $8.22 per month, for each $100,000 of home value.

Based on previous discussions, current board members appear likely to support the recommendation.

During budget talks earlier this year, several board members said they were interested in prioritizing funding for increased mental health services. The district did allocate some money from the 2018-19 budget to expand services, described as the “most urgent,” and mostly for students with special needs, but officials had said that new dollars could be needed to do more.

The teacher pay component was written into the contract approved earlier this year between the district and the teachers union. If Aurora voters approved the tax measure, then the union and school district would reopen negotiations to redesign the way teachers are paid.

In crafting the recommendation, school district staff will explain findings from focus groups and polling. Based on polls conducted of 500 likely voters by Frederick Polls, 61 percent said in July they would favor a school tax hike.

The district’s presentation for the board will also note that outreach and polling indicate community support for teacher pay raises, student services and other items that a tax hike would fund.

School Finance

Key lawmakers urge IPS to lease Broad Ripple high school to charter school

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Several Indiana lawmakers, including two influential state representatives, are calling on Indianapolis Public Schools leaders to sell the Broad Ripple High School campus to Purdue Polytechnic High School.

In a letter to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the Indianapolis Public Schools Board sent Tuesday, nine lawmakers urged the district to quickly accept a verbal offer from Purdue Polytechnic to lease the building for up to $8 million.

The letter is the latest volley in a sustained campaign from Broad Ripple residents and local leaders to pressure the district to lease or sell the desirable building to a charter school. The district is instead considering steps that could eventually allow them sell the large property on the open market.

But lawmakers said the offer from Purdue Polytechnic is more lucrative and indicated they wouldn’t support allowing the district to sell the property to other buyers.

The letter from lawmakers described selling the property to Purdue Polytechnic as a “unique opportunity to capitalize on an immediate revenue opportunity while adhering to the letter and spirit of state law.”

It’s an important development because it was signed by House Speaker Brian Bosma and chairman of the House Education Committee Bob Behning, two elected officials whose support would be essential to changing a law that requires the district to first offer the building to charter schools for $1. Both are Republicans from Indianapolis.

Last year, the district lobbied for the law to be modified, and Behning initially included language in a bill to do so. When charter schools, including Purdue Polytechnic, expressed interest in the building, he withdrew the proposal.

The district announced last month that it planned to use the Broad Ripple building for operations over the next year, which will allow it to avoid placing the building on the unused property registry that would eventually make it available to charter operators.

The plan to continue using the building inspired pointed criticism from lawmakers, who described the move in the letter as an excuse not to lease the property to a charter school. Lawmakers hinted that the plan will not help win support for changing the law.

“It certainly would not be a good faith start to any effort to persuade the General Assembly to reconsider the charter facility law,” the letter said.

The legislature goes back in session in January.

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board said in the statement that they appreciate the interest from lawmakers in the future of the building.

“We believe our constituents would not want us to circumvent a public process and bypass due diligence,” the statement continued. “We will continue to move with urgency recognizing our commitment to maximize resources for student needs and minimize burdens on taxpayers.”

Indianapolis Public Schools is currently gathering community perspectives on reusing the property and analyzing the market. The district is also planning an open process for soliciting proposals and bids for the property. The district’s proposal would stretch the sale process over about 15 months, culminating in a decision in September 2019. Purdue Polytechnic plans to open a second campus in fall 2019, and leaders are looking to nail down a location.