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.”

school facilities

Cold temps close Memphis state-run schools, highlighting bigger issue of repairing costly, aging buildings

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary was one of four school closed Tuesday due to heating issues.

About 1,200 students in Tennessee’s turnaround district stayed home from school on Tuesday because their school heating systems weren’t working properly.

Temperatures dipped below 35 degrees, and four schools in the Achievement School District opted to cancel classes because of boiler issues: Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Corning Achievement Elementary School, and Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

Aging school buildings in Memphis have caused headaches and missed school time for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District, which occupies buildings rent-free from the local district. Just last week, Hamilton High School in Shelby County Schools closed for two days after a power outage caused by heavy rain, and Kirby High School remains closed because of a rodent infestation. Kirby’s students are being housed in different schools for the rest of the semester while repairs are made to rid the school of pests. And Shelby County Schools had to deal with the dropping temperatures on Tuesday as well, with Westwood High School and Oak Forest Elementary ending classes early due to their own heating issues.

But Tuesday’s closures for state-run schools point to a larger issue of facilities: In a city full of older school buildings needing expensive updates, who pays, and who does the work? There is a formal maintenance agreement between the two districts, but the lines that divide responsibilities for repairs are not always clear.

Shelby County Schools is responsible for bigger fixes in the state district, such as new roofs or heating and air conditioning systems, while the state district’s charter operators are responsible for daily maintenance.

Bobby White, chief of external affairs for the Achievement School District, said they are working with Shelby County Schools to resolve the heating problem at the three elementary schools, two of which share a building. But he said that the issues won’t be fixed by Wednesday, and the schools will remain closed.

“We know it throws off our teachers and students to miss class,” White said. “It’s an unfortunate situation. And it underscores the larger issue of our buildings not being in good shape.”

The charter organization Frayser Community Schools runs MLK Jr. High School as part of the Achievement School District, and a spokeswoman for Frayser said they were handling the broiler repairs on their own.

“We are not working with SCS because they don’t handle HVAC issues that are less than $25,000” maintenance director, Erica Williams told Chalkbeat in an email.

The state district was created in 2012 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools by taking over local schools and giving them to outside charter organizations to run. Shelby County Schools has a crippling amount of deferred maintenance for its school buildings, including those occupied by the state district, that would cost more than $500 million. The Shelby County district prioritizes how to chip away at that huge cost based on how many children are affected, the condition of the building, and the type of repair, spokeswoman Natalia Powers told Chalkbeat, adding that the district has made some major repairs at state-run schools.

But Sharon Griffin, chief of the Achievement School District told Chalkbeat previously that one of her goals is to resolve problems more quickly with Shelby County Schools when a major repair is needed to avoid lost class time.

Still counting

Jeffco bond measure that had been failing pulls ahead in narrow race

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Students work on breathing exercises during a yoga class at the end of the school day at Pennington Elementary School.

Update: Over the weekend, the bond measure pulled ahead and is currently headed toward passage, with 50.3 percent of the vote. We’ll continue to update this post as new results come in.

Vote tallies released Thursday in Jefferson County show that a $567 million bond request is down by just 132 votes, opening up the possibility that it might yet pass.

We previously reported that Jefferson County voters had approved a $33 million local tax increase but turned down the bond request. At midday Wednesday, just 48 percent of voters had said yes. The gap was roughly 7,000 votes, and the trend hadn’t changed since the first returns were posted Tuesday evening. It appeared to mark the second time in two years that Jeffco voters had turned down a request to issue debt to improve school buildings.

But by Thursday evening, with additional ballots counted, the margin by which Jeffco Measure 5B was failing had narrowed significantly. The 132-vote margin is currently within the window that would trigger an automatic recount. A mandatory recount is triggered when the difference is one half of one percent of the number of votes cast for the higher vote count, according to officials from the Secretary of State’s office.

Backers of the tax measures are holding out hope the result could change.

District officials said they plan to use the proceeds of this year’s tax measures to raise teacher pay, increase mental health support for students, beef up school security, expand career and technical education, improve science facilities, add more full-day preschool, and buy classroom materials and technology.

On Wednesday, Katie Winner, a mother of two students in Jeffco schools, told us the two tax measures were closely tied and both equally needed.

“I want to know what voters were thinking,” she said. “I didn’t see one without the other.”

We’ll keep tabs on the counting and update you as soon as we have a final tally.