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.”