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Ferebee wants IPS teachers to work five more days

An elementary school teacher at one of Indianapolis Public Schools' priority schools describes the qualities of her favorite teacher during the 2014 Priority Schools Summer Institute.
An elementary school teacher at one of Indianapolis Public Schools' priority schools describes the qualities of her favorite teacher during the 2014 Priority Schools Summer Institute.
Hayleigh Colombo

Indianapolis Public Schools teachers say Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s plan to improve instruction by adding five training days to the calendar starting next school year will end up costing them.

The district’s labor contract with its teachers union currently calls for them to work up to 190 days, but the district calendar only requires them to come to work 185 days. In essence, teachers get five extra days off, a benefit some say helps make amends for some of the lost income they’ve incurred over five years without a raise.

“Teachers need professional development, but I don’t know that our time is being used wisely within the school day,” said Northwest High School Spanish teacher Katherine Hinkle. “Rather than adding more days (into) our contract, I propose we give schools more freedom and encourage schools to come … up with their own professional development.”

The labor deal expires June 30, which means the length of the contract year could be up for debate.

But Ferebee has asked board members to vote next week to approve the 2015-16 and 2016-17 calendars. The district can’t expect to improve its academic performance if it doesn’t strengthen teacher training, he said. That means putting teachers to work for the full 190 days, he said.

“It’s so needed, and I would hope that our teachers would value that,” Ferebee said. “We’re not talking about additional work days in the classroom with students. We’re talking about opportunities to get better. That’s a better model than asking teachers to come in over the summer.”

IPS has struggled to effectively recruit and retain teachers. But the district also ranks near the bottom in Marion County school for the amount of time dedicated to teacher training, Ferebee said. Simply adding training time before, during or after a regular school day isn’t as effective as dedicating a full day to it without students, he said.

“I’ve been an elementary teacher,” Ferebee said. “By the time I took my students to music and P.E. (classes), made a phone call, used the restroom, it was time to go back. It’s hard to get that type of work done during the day.”

Several teachers at Tuesday’s school board meeting criticized Ferebee’s plan. Other proposed changes to the IPS calendar include transitioning Thanksgiving break from a full week off into a three-day week.

Board member Gayle Cosby had concerns with the plan.

“Our morale is pretty low,” she said. “Anything we do to weaken that further should be very carefully considered.”

Teachers union president Rhondalyn Cornett said the union will push even harder for a raise during contract negotiations if board members approve the new calendar.

This year’s contract awarded teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective” with a $1,500 bonus, but did not increase base pay. IPS currently is working with an outside consultant to overhaul its teacher pay and promotion strategy.

“They can do this, and we’ll talk to (Ferebee) when bargaining starts,” Cornett said. “It is what it is. I understand what IPS is saying, but I understand what my teachers say, and I’ve got to represent them.”

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