Indianapolis Public Schools has called in outside help to design a new teacher compensation model in the district’s rush to develop a plan for the future before negotiation with the teachers union begins next month.
Board members at a special meeting last week narrowly approved a plan to pay Boston-based nonprofit Education Resource Strategies $200,000 over four months to help the district reimagine how and what it pays teachers while working within tight budget constraints. IPS, which lags behind some of Marion County township districts when it comes to teacher pay, has struggled recruiting and retaining teachers. Officials say salary is a major stumbling block. Because of tight finances in recent years some IPS teachers have gone five years without a raise.
Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says the purpose of working with ERS, which has helped other urban public school districts with the same task, is to prepare for negotiations with the union by developing a “cost-sustainable strategy that helps IPS achieve short-term goals while also setting the foundation for deeper transformation” in the way the district evaluates and pays teachers.
District officials and the teachers union seem to agree on some key points when it comes to teacher compensation — including the fact that increasing teachers’ starting salaries will be necessary for the district to be more competitive with nearby districts. Current starting teacher salary at IPS is $35,650.
But IPS board member Caitlin Hannon, who has championed ERS, said the parties don’t necessarily know what steps to take to arrive there, which is where the nonprofit could help. Even a modest 2 percent raise for IPS teachers carries with it a roughly $4 million price tag, Ferebee has said.
“My hope is this helps us actually act on the values that it seems we all share,” Hannon said.
She previously worked with ERS through an organization she leads known as TeachPlus at a recent event that included nearly 150 IPS teachers completing hands-on exercises that forced them to think through tough questions about teacher pay. TeachPlus is a national organization that aims to get teachers involved in education policy. Hannon is its executive director for Indianapolis.
Momentum building for “Project Elevate”
The board’s approval of the plan to work with ERS means that Supt. Lewis Ferebee and administrators are one step closer to moving forward with a $2.35 million plan known as “Project Elevate” to overhaul teacher pay and compensation throughout the district.
IPS recently approved the first part of the plan — a nearly $85,000 contract with IUPUI to help improve the district’s teacher evaluation system.
Not everyone was supportive of the district’s new relationship with ERS.
Three board members — Gayle Cosby, Michael Brown and Samantha Adair-White — voted against the plan for the district to work with the nonprofit. It passed the seven-member board by a narrow one-vote margin.
Along with the teachers union, they previously expressed concerns over IPS’ decision not to put out a request for bids from other contractors who might have ideas to improve the district. The teachers union also questioned Hannon’s past relationship with ERS because TeachPlus worked with the organization for the hands-on exercise.
Cosby said she voted against the plan not because she isn’t supportive of the company’s work, but because she thinks the district needs to be more transparent. She also said she wondered if a competitive process would have resulted in a lower cost for the services.
“I would have been completely fine if they had won the bid, but I thought that it would be a good idea to try to get some diversity through the bidding process,” Cosby said. “I hope that the steps that we’re taking are going to end up preparing us to bring a fair package to the table (when negotiation begins).”
Work beginning immediately
Work redesigning the teacher compensation system will start right away as officials prepare for union negotiations. State law dictates that talks can begin Aug. 1, and Ferebee has said he wants a swift resolution with the union over the new contract.
ERS will receive $50,000 per month from the district through October to analyze teacher pay spending patterns and trends at the district and in other areas, present different teacher pay ideas to the district and adapt a compensation model it has used in other cities for the district to use in the future.
“I would be reluctant to say ‘Here’s how it’s going to look in Indianapolis,'” said David Rosenberg, manager and practice leader for strategic initiatives at ERS. “It’s going to vary by context, but one thing we have seen in other places that can be effective is finding ways to compensate teachers more if they are taking on more challenging assignments, moving them to a higher need school or taking on responsibilities where they can leverage their skills and expand their impact.”
The nonprofit will not have an official role in the contract negotiation process, according to the contract signed by ERS and the district, but will be “available for ongoing advisement on counterproposals” and help the district estimate costs throughout the process.
“The idea was to move forward on this so we can get ourselves in a good place for August,” Hannon said.