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Teacher pay is a big issue beyond IPS, education leaders say

Alan Petersime

Indianapolis Public Schools isn’t the only place pay hikes for teachers are under discussion as a key strategy for keeping teachers in the classroom.

“Obviously work conditions need to be right, school culture needs to be right,” charter school founder Earl Phalen said at a Mind Trust-sponsored panel discussion last Thursday. “But we need pay more, and it’s really that simple. And I don’t think we necessarily need more dollars to do it. I think we need to restructure how we’re using dollars.”

IPS made headlines last week by agreeing to a new union contract that not only raises teacher pay for the first time in five years but boosted pay significantly for new teachers and those at mid-career. The contract even offered big stipends for teachers who play leadership roles, such as mentoring other teachers, of up to $18,300.

But at both the Mind Trust discussion and a separate event sponsored by the West Side Chamber of Commerce on Friday, school leaders from townships and charter schools said teacher pay is a critical challenge for them also.

“I think all of us are looking at (teacher pay),” said Nathaniel Jones, superintendent of Pike Township schools. “But one of the things that we decided to do was look at lifetime earnings of teachers. How do we make sure that if this teacher stays in this profession and retire that we have found a way for them to get a halfway decent pension?”

In the wake of media reports in recent weeks suggesting fewer applicants for some teaching jobs, both discussions were centered on questions of how to both attract and retain good teachers in local schools.

Teachers in traditional public schools, universities and charter schools uniformly voiced a strong desire for higher pay for classroom teachers generally at the Mind Trust Event.

Phalen, the founder of the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school who is now partnering with IPS to manage School 103 independent from district oversight, said getting good teachers isn’t complicated: pay them more, and do it now.

But teacher performance also has to factor into compensation, Phalen said.

Teachers should be paid more, he said, but not if they aren’t doing their jobs well. Phalen was critical of educators in many consistently struggling schools.

“I think the teachers and administrators in those schools should be sued for educational neglect,” Phalen said. “I want to pay teachers more, but if you are not doing the job for our kids, I want you out the door. We don’t have a year to waste.”

Better pay for teachers who consistently perform well should extend up to those with long track records, not just new teachers, said Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith, who was also on The Mind Trust panel.

“We’re doing better on the entry piece, but it’s as they add years of experience, then it becomes a problem,” Meredith said. “Pay is a huge issue and we’ve got to talk about it.”

Even though there is strong demand for some open jobs — Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts said at the Chamber of Commerce event that he can get as many as 150 applicants for an elementary school classroom teacher opening — finding specialists good at teaching high school math, science and foreign language is tougher.

Decatur Township Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said he’s also found it more difficult to get as many strong applicants for open jobs.

“I would argue there are plenty of candidates in our district,” Prusiecki said. “The quality of those candidates, in my opinion, has dropped in terms of being prepared for what we are asking them to do.”

Some school leaders blamed gaps in preparation for new teachers coming out of college on some alternative training programs. The teachers don’t have enough classroom experience, they said, so they rely too heavily on their subject area knowledge.

“We don’t have teachers who are ineffective because they don’t know the content knowledge,” Butts said. “We have teachers who are ineffective because they cannot manage the classroom and inspire others to learn.”

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