Future of Schools

Indianapolis Public Schools teachers win big raises — and more pay bumps could be on the way

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
A new Indianapolis Public Schools contract will boost most eligible teachers’ salaries by at least $2,586 per year.

The Indianapolis Public School board signed off on $5.2 million in raises for teachers Thursday, a significant pay bump that comes a month after voters approved a tax increase to boost funding for education.

The new contract includes raises ranging from 3 to 9 percent, with most eligible teachers’ salaries going up by at least $2,586 per year. The contract covers 2018-19, and teachers will get retroactive pay increases going back to July.

All six board members present voted for the contract, which was ratified by union members last week. Board member Venita Moore was not present.

The agreement offers wage increases for 95 percent of the district’s 1,889 educators, and it rewards both early-career and experienced teachers. The base pay rose to $42,587, about $2,600 above the previous floor.

The deal significantly increased the top pay a teacher can receive — $74,920, or about $15,500 more than the last contract — by adding several new levels of pay near the top of the scale.

“Teachers a week ago could not look at the salary schedule and feel comfortable and confident that they had a future in this district,” said teacher Tina Ahlgren, bargaining chair for the Indianapolis Education Association, the teachers union. With the increased ceiling of almost $75,000, “we hope that that will truly allow teachers who want to serve IPS students for the entirety of their careers to see that future as a possibility.”

Teachers who received evaluations of “ineffective” or “needs improvement” in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

When campaigning for additional tax funding, district leaders committed to use the money to raise pay for educators, and that argument helped win the support of a large swath of voters.

This raise is not funded by the new tax revenue, since the district will not receive proceeds from the referendum until next year. But the promise of additional money is on the horizon.

It’s the second significant raise Indianapolis Public Schools teachers have won under outgoing superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Teachers also received a large increase in 2015 after years of painful pay freezes.

School board member Kelly Bentley said that she is proud the district has been able to continue increasing teacher pay despite declining revenue.

“It’s never enough. We know it’s not enough,” she said. “We can’t do what we are doing in IPS without the teachers, and we need to reward them.”

Some parents also spoke in favor of the raises. Parent Shawanda Tyson said they’re necessary to keep teachers.

“No one should have an academic year of nothing but substitute teachers because teachers are leaving the profession,” she said. “We need to make sure that the teachers are paid as the professionals that they are.”

One reason the district was under pressure to raise teacher pay is because it must compete with several surrounding communities to staff schools. The increase in pay makes the district “very competitive” with other communities, said Ferebee.

Ferebee said whether teachers get another big raise next year — once referendum funds begin flowing — will hinge on how much the district gets from the state.

“There’s just so much that needs to be done to get teachers where they were decades ago,” he said during a press briefing earlier this week.

The deal was negotiated in under two days, an unusually short bargaining period. It is a much-needed win for the teachers union, which was rocked by the news last month that long-time president Rhondalyn Cornett allegedly stole $100,000 over several years. Cornett resigned from her position and was replaced by the vice president, Ronald Swann.

Health care costs are going up for teachers this year if they keep the same plans, though the district also made lower-cost options available. The Indy Chamber advocated for the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract does include provisions that teachers unions have typically opposed. It allows the administration to pay some teachers more than others. Newly hired teachers can be placed anywhere on the salary schedule, a move that’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions. And the district has the discretion to pay teachers at some troubled schools — in the district’s transformation zone — additional stipends.

Future of Schools

The political arm of the Indy Chamber spent $100,000 on the IPS board election and referendums

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat

The largest donors to Indianapolis Public Schools board candidates were two local political groups with competing visions for the district’s future.

The political action committee affiliated with the Indy Chamber gave close toe $50,000 to three school board candidates — an investment that only helped them win one seat — according to annual campaign finance disclosures released this week.

The donations come at a time when the local chamber of commerce is increasingly entwined with the district. The business group formed a partnership with the district in September to help implement a cost-cutting plan, which was the culmination of months of negotiations. The chamber, in turn, was an influential backer of two referendums that helped raise funds for the district. In addition to vocally supporting the tax measures, the political action committee gave more than $50,000 to that campaign.

The candidates that the chamber supported were all endorsed by Stand for Children, a parent organizing group that supports strategies such partnerships with charter operators. All three candidates were seen as allies of former-superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration.

The referendums passed easily, but the chamber was not as successful when it came to the school board. Only one of the contenders they backed, Evan Hawkins, won a seat. Incumbents Mary Ann Sullivan and Dorene Rodríguez Hoops were defeated. The group’s contributions included cash and in-kind donations such as consulting.

The largest donor in the race was the political arm of the state teachers union, which contributed $68,400 to three candidates who all expressed criticism of Ferebee’s administration, as Chalkbeat reported in October. That group backed Michele Lorbieski, who lost to Hawkins, as well Susan Collins and Taria Slack, who defeated incumbents to win seats on the board.

The latest disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana —Sullivan, Hoops, and Hawkins — likely received significant unreported benefits. The group typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee.

Here are some of the most notable contributions from campaign disclosures:

IPS referendums

The Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which supported the referendums for additional funding for the school system, raised more than $397,000 last year. By far the largest donor was Stand for Children, which donated nearly $328,000.

At-large

Susan Collins, who won her school board election, raised nearly $17,000. The bulk of that money came from a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education.

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, who lost to Collins, raised almost $34,000. That included more than $14,000 from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, $5,000 from Reid Hoffman (a LinkedIn co-founder known for political spending), and $2,000 from Laurene Powell Jobs.

A third at-large candidate, Joanna Krumel, who also lost to Collins, raised $200.

District 3

Evan Hawkins, who won a seat, raised nearly $35,000. That included about $14,000 from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee and $1,000 Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA.

Michele Lorbieski, who lost to Hawkins, raised almost $28,000, primarily from a $24,900 contribution from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education.

A disclosure for Sherry Shelton, who also lost to Hawkins, has not been posted by the Marion County Election Board. Her latest disclosure showed she raised had raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed.

District 5

Taria Slack, who won the election, raised nearly $30,000, including a $28,500 contribution from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education.

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, who lost to Slack, raised almost $41,000. That included more than $20,000 from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, and $5,000 from Hoffman.

Civics lesson

Water fountains, a march, and dreams: Brooklyn kindergartners learn about the civil rights movement ahead of MLK day

PHOTO: Reema Amin/Chalkbeat
Kindergartners at New American Academy Charter School in Canarsie learned about the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. by staging a peaceful march in the school hallway.

A dozen kindergartners held picket signs and marched down their third floor hallway, chanting about Martin Luther King Jr., “He was great, and he was good. He taught peace and brotherhood.”

Stopping in front of the nearest water fountain, one student taped to the wall a sign that, in child’s penmanship, read “White Only.”

“Did people get punished for drinking out of the wrong water fountain?” asked their teacher, Diamond Mays.

“Yes,” several of the children, all of whom are black, responded.

How, Mays asked, did black people who couldn’t use certain water fountains feel, especially on a hot day?

“Sad!”

“Frustrated!”

This scene on Thursday was one of several exercises the kindergartners at New American Academy Charter School in Canarsie participated in ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Each year, the school commemorates the day with lessons or activities tailored to each grade.

Since the students are so young, teachers have mostly focused on King’s promotion of peace and his legacy, rather than the more violent aspects of the American civil rights movement, said Fatima Toure, a kindergarten teacher at the school. It’s part of the school’s model to promote King’s vision and ideology, which is what “we want for our students,” said Lisa Parquette, the school’s headmaster.

The activities at New American are one slice of what schools across the city are doing to teach their students about King ahead of the national holiday, which marks when the civil rights leader would have turned 90. Brooklyn’s PS 261 participated in an annual march to Borough Hall. P.S. 770 in Brooklyn will hold a volunteering event Monday to commemorate the holiday, which children have off from school.

Toure said the activities also appeal to students’ natural curiosity. “They seem more curious as to, you know, why it was happening because I believe they just heard about Martin Luther King, but they didn’t really understand what he did,” Toure said. “They would ask questions about why African Americans have to sit in the back of the bus, why was everything separated, why were there colored signs in certain places.”

Since kindergartners do better with visuals, school leaders chose the march and water fountain activity so they could actually see slices of what life was like before and during the civil rights movement, Toure said.

Over the past week, kindergarten classes reviewed a few readings about King. With a teacher’s help, they wrote about the ideas King pioneered that left an impact on their daily lives.

A guest speaker visited students on Tuesday and answered questions about segregation and King’s biography.

They learned key terms like segregation and Jim Crow and helped make their “protest” signs featuring facts about the civil rights movement.

“Jim Crow laws legalized racial segregation,” one kindergartener read proudly from her sign before their march.

After the march, the students returned to their classroom to share their dreams (with inspiration from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech). Several of the children, a little confused by the lesson, wished that black and white people could use the same water fountains, and their teacher gently reminded them that this was already the case. One girl hoped to “get more big and grow up.”

Then it was Nathan’s turn.

“My dream is white and black people can come together,” he said.