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Alan Petersime

IPS starts summer with 300 teacher, staff vacancies

Indianapolis Public Schools officials have a long summer of hiring ahead of them as they try to make up for the droves of teachers and staff members who are leaving the district behind for good this month.

IPS currently has 300 teacher and staff position vacancies, according to a report presented to the school board tonight at its monthly meeting. Nearly 190 of the vacancies are for teachers or other certified staff, like counselors and social workers — about 7.5 percent of the district’s teaching staff of about 2,500 teachers.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he is concerned about the looming challenge of filling the spots before school starts again in August.

“We want every student to know who their teacher’s going to be at the start of school,” Ferebee said. “It’s very concerning to me to make sure we have the right hires.”

It’s unclear from the personnel report how many of the losses are from teachers who felt stung by going more than five years without a raise. But that’s something that school board member Caitlin Hannon and other IPS officials are worried about.

It’s why Ferebee decided to tell teachers in May that he planned to give teachers a salary raise next year. Negotiations with the union, or bargaining, officially starts Aug. 1 but Ferebee said he hopes to come to an agreement with the teachers union before that.

“I’m hopeful that will make some difference,” said Hannon, who is the executive director of Teach Plus, a policy organization that has previously studied IPS teacher pay issues. “We know it’s an issue. We have to get better at it. It is fundamental to what we do, to making sure that kids are getting the greatest shot.”

But board member Gayle Cosby said public perception doesn’t help the district when it comes to hiring.

“It’s going to be very difficult to find 300 people in the course of the next month and a half, but in an attempt to try to be optimistic about the situation, I’m hopeful that the bargaining process, while it’s probably not going to be perfect, will be a good-faith attempt at righting some of the wrongs,” Cosby said.

Vacancies were also a problem for IPS last year.

Last July Chalkbeat reported there were nearly twice as many resignations made by teachers and other certified personnel during the summer of 2014 than during the same months in 2013. Nearly 140 teachers and certified staff quit between May and July. Seventy certified employees quit during those months in 2013.

And students and parents at George Washington High School have complained about having long-term substitute teachers in core subject areas throughout this school year.

Ferebee said the district is “ramping up efforts” to improve hiring processes and that IPS recently redesigned its human resources department to that end.

He said he’s asked principals and the district’s human resources team to act swiftly in filling the positions.

“Principals know that’s important to me that they work really hard to ensure they fill as many vacancies as possible over the summer,” Ferebee said. “Know that they’re working on that. Know that we have a short summer, so we’ll try to get as many of those vacancies filled as we can.”

Ferebee hopes to hire a policy adviser who previously worked at the Indiana Department of Education under then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett to help create a better talent pipeline.

On Thursday Ferebee will ask the board for permission to hire Mindy Schlegel, the former Bennett official, for $125,000 per year as a talent officer. Schlegel is a policy fellow with Public Impact, which currently is working with IPS to bring a new staffing model to six schools.

He’ll also ask the board to approve hiring Lela Hester, who worked with Ferebee at Durham Public Schools in North Carolina, for the position of human resources operations officer at $145,000 per year. She previously has consulted for IPS.