Teacher pay is a big issue beyond IPS, education leaders say

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis Public Schools isn’t the only place pay hikes for teachers are under discussion as a key strategy for keeping teachers in the classroom.

“Obviously work conditions need to be right, school culture needs to be right,” charter school founder Earl Phalen said at a Mind Trust-sponsored panel discussion last Thursday. “But we need pay more, and it’s really that simple. And I don’t think we necessarily need more dollars to do it. I think we need to restructure how we’re using dollars.”

IPS made headlines last week by agreeing to a new union contract that not only raises teacher pay for the first time in five years but boosted pay significantly for new teachers and those at mid-career. The contract even offered big stipends for teachers who play leadership roles, such as mentoring other teachers, of up to $18,300.

But at both the Mind Trust discussion and a separate event sponsored by the West Side Chamber of Commerce on Friday, school leaders from townships and charter schools said teacher pay is a critical challenge for them also.

“I think all of us are looking at (teacher pay),” said Nathaniel Jones, superintendent of Pike Township schools. “But one of the things that we decided to do was look at lifetime earnings of teachers. How do we make sure that if this teacher stays in this profession and retire that we have found a way for them to get a halfway decent pension?”

In the wake of media reports in recent weeks suggesting fewer applicants for some teaching jobs, both discussions were centered on questions of how to both attract and retain good teachers in local schools.

Teachers in traditional public schools, universities and charter schools uniformly voiced a strong desire for higher pay for classroom teachers generally at the Mind Trust Event.

Phalen, the founder of the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school who is now partnering with IPS to manage School 103 independent from district oversight, said getting good teachers isn’t complicated: pay them more, and do it now.

But teacher performance also has to factor into compensation, Phalen said.

Teachers should be paid more, he said, but not if they aren’t doing their jobs well. Phalen was critical of educators in many consistently struggling schools.

“I think the teachers and administrators in those schools should be sued for educational neglect,” Phalen said. “I want to pay teachers more, but if you are not doing the job for our kids, I want you out the door. We don’t have a year to waste.”

Better pay for teachers who consistently perform well should extend up to those with long track records, not just new teachers, said Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith, who was also on The Mind Trust panel.

“We’re doing better on the entry piece, but it’s as they add years of experience, then it becomes a problem,” Meredith said. “Pay is a huge issue and we’ve got to talk about it.”

Even though there is strong demand for some open jobs — Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts said at the Chamber of Commerce event that he can get as many as 150 applicants for an elementary school classroom teacher opening — finding specialists good at teaching high school math, science and foreign language is tougher.

Decatur Township Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said he’s also found it more difficult to get as many strong applicants for open jobs.

“I would argue there are plenty of candidates in our district,” Prusiecki said. “The quality of those candidates, in my opinion, has dropped in terms of being prepared for what we are asking them to do.”

Some school leaders blamed gaps in preparation for new teachers coming out of college on some alternative training programs. The teachers don’t have enough classroom experience, they said, so they rely too heavily on their subject area knowledge.

“We don’t have teachers who are ineffective because they don’t know the content knowledge,” Butts said. “We have teachers who are ineffective because they cannot manage the classroom and inspire others to learn.”

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