Many Memphis students started their school year with something important missing from their classroom: a permanent teacher.
About 100 Shelby County Schools classrooms still lack full-time teachers, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday, the first day of school, after a tour at Bruce Elementary.
“We’ve had 80 vacancies come up over the last couple of weeks,” Hopson said. “There will be a full press for teachers.”
The number of open teaching jobs hasn’t gone down much since the last week of July, when the district had 123 vacancies to fill. But the district is in better shape than it was at this time last year, Hopson emphasized on Monday.
And it’s not the only district with vacancies left open. Metro Nashville Public Schools, a slightly smaller district, has 24 open teaching jobs. Knox County Schools, the state’s third-largest district, needs more than 40 teachers. Across the board, districts are most hurting for special education teachers, though vacancies exist in nearly every subject.
In cases where a long-term vacancy is expected, such as if a teacher is out on disability, Shelby County Schools has reached out to retired teachers to fill the positions, said spokeswoman Natalia Powers. But in cases where the district is still looking for a permanent hire, substitute teachers are manning the classrooms.
Briana Johnson, a junior at East High School, said her environmental science class had a substitute teacher Monday.
“There wasn’t a plan or anything. We really just sat around,” she said. “It’s not a class I’m planning on keeping, but still, we didn’t do anything today.”
The first days of class establish the tone for the entire year, making even short-term teacher vacancies a long-term barrier to student learning, said Keith Williams, executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association.
“I don’t know how the district expects to achieve its goals if they don’t have the staff in place,” Williams said.
In a district of high teacher turnover, with 600-800 new teachers every fall, some vacancies are expected, Powers said. Overall, the district retained 89 percent of its teachers and 93 percent of its highest-performing teachers.
“It’s a revolving door in the sense that you have people that have different circumstances – families, pregnancies — so it’s a changing pool, and that’s what makes it a little bit challenging,” Powers said. “I mean, 108 in a pool of 6,000; it’s very good.”
Reporters Grace Tatter and Katie Kull contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the number of open teaching positions listed on Metro Nashville Public Schools’ website, about 80. Some of those positions had in fact been filled. The correct number of vacancies is 34.
A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.
The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.
Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.
Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.
The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.
The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.
Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.
Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.
The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.
Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.
The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.
Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.
The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.
Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.
“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”
Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.
Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019
The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.
“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”
“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.”
ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.
And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.
But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.
Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.
With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.
Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.
“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”
ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:
- Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
- Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
- Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
- Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
- Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.
Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.
Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.