School Finance

IPS tells its teachers: the wait for extra pay is almost over

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Indiana's 2018 Teacher of the Year will be chosen in October.

Indianapolis Public Schools teachers are about to get the extra pay they were promised last summer.

No, really, the district means it.

It’s been nearly six months since the Indianapolis Public School Board voted to give teachers a pay bump, but the money has been in limbo because of problems with the state ISTEP test. Until the long-delayed test results were finally approved by the Indiana State Board of Education last month, IPS could not calculate teacher ratings, which are a critical factor in determining who gets pay raises and bonuses.

But teachers won’t have to wait much longer.

Those who qualify for extra pay should get paid in mid-February, according to IPS talent officer Mindy Schlegel. That should mean a nice pay day for many of them. They will be getting pay they are owed going back to July 2015.

IPS will send out letters to teachers on Friday with details on how much back pay they will receive and what their new pay rates will be going forward, Schlegel said.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “It was a long road waiting for the state to give us clear guidance.”

In August, the teachers union and district administration negotiated a contract that offers big pay raises for many teachers — the first increase in base pay in over five years. The two-year contract will raise starting salaries by 12 percent to $40,000 per year. Mid-career teachers can receive raises of up to 10 percent and even teachers at the top of the pay scale can get raises of 2.9 percent.

But teachers haven’t yet seen a penny of new money so far.

State law requires districts to use test scores to “significantly inform” teacher evaluations. Because only teachers that are rated in the top two categories out of four — highly effective or effective — may receive raises under state law, the grindingly long wait for ISTEP scores and school A-F grades held up the entire process.

The wait has been increasingly frustrating for teachers, said Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the the district’s teachers union. Many didn’t realize that it was state law delaying the pay increases, she said. But she thinks IPS is doing its part.

“From the very beginning, they’ve wanted to work with us on getting the teachers money that they deserve,” Cornett said.

And after all that waiting, it turned out the state stepped in to give teachers a break from any consequences from low ISTEP scores. Test scores will have relatively little influence on which teachers receive raises.

When the state adopted new academic standards, it led to an overhaul of ISTEP  last year. As many predicted, the state saw a dramatic decline in student scores at almost all schools.

The Republican-led legislature last month rushed through two bills to spare teachers and schools from the negative consequences of low ISTEP scores.

The bill to protect teachers, House Bill 1003, blocks districts from using ISTEP scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation unless the scores would improve the teacher’s rating. The law also stipulates that no matter what grade a school receives, teachers will get bonuses and salary increases.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the bills into law Jan. 21, but teachers are still waiting. That’s because of the slow and deliberate machinery of bureaucracy, according the Schlegel.

The district actually began preparing to give out the promised raises several days before Pence approved the bills pausing ISTEP consequences, she said. On Jan. 11, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee sent an email to staff explaining that principals would begin evaluations based on the expected legislation.

“We got clear direction from Dr. Ferebee to make it happen as fast as humanly possible,” Schlegel said.

Building principals were given 10 days to complete the evaluations, which then went through an audit process. Next, Schlegel’s office had to sort through data to ensure that people who left or joined the district were properly counted. Finally, it went to the payroll office for processing.

Teachers should all receive their back pay by mid-February, she said.

The district could not immediately provide an estimate of how many teachers will receive raises or how much back pay teachers will earn. Under the contract, teachers who earn raises are entitled to back pay going all the way back to July 2015.

In a twist, Ferebee will also receive some extra cash once back pay is paid out to teachers: at Ferebee’s request, the district will not pay him a $21,000 performance bonus awarded by the board until teachers receive their pay increase. He could also be eligible for additional money, based on student test scores, now that the results are available.

For her part, Cornett is happy to approach the finish line.

“I’m glad that IPS is working swiftly to pay the teachers,” she said. “It’s almost over.”


Colorado schools are getting a major bump in the state’s 2018-19 budget

Students waiting to enter their sixth-grade classroom at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

Colorado’s strong economy has opened the door for state lawmakers to send a major cash infusion to the state’s public schools.

As they finalized the recommended budget for 2018-19, the Joint Budget Committee set aside $150 million, an additional $50 million beyond what Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had asked for, to increase funding to schools.

“We believe this is the most significant reduction in what used to be called the negative factor since it was born,” said state Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

Colorado’s constitution calls for per pupil spending to increase at least by inflation every year, but the state hasn’t been able to meet that obligation since the Great Recession. The amount by which schools get shorted, officially called the budget stabilization factor, is $822 million in 2017-18. Under state law, this number isn’t supposed to get bigger from one year to the next, but in recent years, it hasn’t gotten much smaller either. 

But a booming economy coupled with more capacity in the state budget created by a historic compromise on hospital funding last year means Colorado has a lot more money to spend this year. In their March forecast, legislative economists told lawmakers they have an extra $1.3 billion to spend or save in 2018-19.

The recommended shortfall for next year is now just $672.4 million. That would bring average per-pupil spending above $8,100, compared to $7,662 this year.

Total program spending on K-12 education, after the budget stabilization factor is deducted, should be a little more than $7 billion, with the state picking up about $4.5 billion and the rest coming from local property taxes.

The budget debate this year has featured Republicans pressing for more ongoing money for transportation and Democrats resisting in the interest of spreading more money around to other needs. The positive March forecast reduced much of that tension, as a $500 million allocation for transportation allowed a compromise on roads funding in the Republican-controlled Senate. That compromise still needs the approval of the Democratic-controlled House, but suddenly a lot of things are seeming possible.

“We knew we were going to have more revenue than we’ve ever had to work with,” Hamner said of the status at the beginning of the session. But that presented its own challenges, as so many interest groups and constituencies sought to address long-standing needs.

“The fact that we’ve been able to reach such incredible compromises on transportation and K-12 funding, I think most members will be very pleased with this outcome,” Hamner said. “Where we ended up is a pretty good place.”

The big outstanding issue is proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA fund to address unfunded liabilities. A bill that is likely to see significant changes in the House is wending its way through the process. The Joint Budget Committee has set aside $225 million to deal with costs associated with that fix, which has major implications for teachers and school districts budgets.

The Joint Budget Committee has also set aside $30 million for rural schools, $10 million for programs to address teacher shortages, and $7 million for school safety grants.

The budget will be introduced in the House on Monday. Many of the school funding elements will appear in a separate school finance bill.

Going forward, there is a question about how sustainable these higher funding levels will be.

“It does put more pressure on the general fund,” Hamner said. “If we see a downturn in the economy, it’s going to be a challenge.”

What's fair

Colorado’s state-authorized charter schools could get more money next year

Students at The New America School in Thornton during an English class. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Charter schools authorized at the state level by the Charter School Institute are likely to get more money in the 2018-19 budget year. That’s one year before most other charter schools will see benefits from last year’s charter school funding equity bill.

That bill was a major compromise out of the 2017 session, and it requires school districts to share money from voter-approved tax increases with the charter schools they’ve authorized, starting in 2019-20. The bill also created the mill levy equalization fund to distribute state money to the Charter School Institute’s 41 schools. Because no local school board approved these schools, they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for revenue from these increases, known as mill levy overrides.

Charter School Institute administrators came calling for their money this year, though, with a request for $5.5 million from the general fund. They arrived at this number by identifying institute schools within the geographic boundaries of districts that already share some extra revenue with their local charters and assuming institute schools got a similar share.

Institute Executive Director Terry Croy Lewis called it a “first step” toward parity that would bring institute and district-authorized charter schools to the same level in advance of the new law going fully into effect in 2019. Lewis said it seemed like a fair approach because the parents at institute-authorized schools often live within the geographic boundary and pay taxes at the same rates as parents whose children go to traditional schools or district-authorized charters.

However, the charter equity bill says that extra money for institute schools has to be distributed on an equal per-pupil basis. The original approach, which created more equity among schools in the same geographic boundary, created more disparities among institute schools in different regions – and the law might not have allowed it.

“I don’t think you can define equity in this conversation because equity cuts a lot of different ways,” said state Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and member of the Joint Budget Committee.

Budget analyst Craig Harper suggested to the Joint Budget Committee that separate legislation might be necessary to allow the distribution proposed by the Charter School Institute, something no lawmakers wanted to see after the bruising fight over the charter school equity bill.

Instead, the Charter School Institute revised its proposal to distribute the money among its schools on a per-pupil basis, regardless of geography and whether the local district already shares money.

What sort of difference does this make?

In the first distribution scenario, Early College of Arvada, located in the Westminster district, would have gotten nothing – because Westminster doesn’t currently share money with its own charters. Under the new proposal, the school would get $131,233 based on its pupil count. Meanwhile, Colorado Early College – Fort Collins, which would have gotten $621,357 because the Poudre district already shares money, would instead get just $374,952

Lingering confusion over the distribution question led JBC members to postpone a decision several times before they voted 4-2 this week to include the $5.5 million request in the 2018-19 budget.

It still has to survive the extended battle over the budget that takes place in the full House and Senate each year.