Local teachers see increases in compensation

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Local teachers are seeing increases in their compensation as school corporations approve teacher contracts for the coming year.

The raises — ranging from $1,000 to $3,596 on base pay — come amid years of unrest among educators about teacher compensation and how the Indiana legislature funds public education. At the same time, however, the raises are made possible in part by state-level actions that increased funding for schools.

Earlier this year, Gov. Eric Holcomb dedicated $150 million in surplus funds to paying down teacher pension debt that local schools have been paying toward, which freed up some funds at the local level that administrators could allocate toward teacher compensation. Holcomb also budgeted a 2% increase in funding for K-12 education in both 2020 and 2021 — Indiana budgets for two years at a time, and 2019 was a budget year — which the legislature approved. That change will result in schools receiving more funding per student in the next two years.

“I think that’s the factor that gave us the confidence to do a two-year agreement this time around,” Southwest Dubois Schools Superintendent Tim LaGrange said of the 2% increase for the next two years.

Southwest Schools also saw an increase in enrollment, which also helped boost funding for the corporation, leading to the two-year agreement between the corporation and the Southwest Dubois Classroom Teachers Association that increased the base salary at each step of the pay scale $500 and moved each teacher up one step on the scale, equaling a $1,750 increase to base pay for teachers throughout the corporation. Teachers will also receive a $250 stipend.

Under the two-year contract, the same pay scale changes will happen in 2020-21.

“The governor and what he did with [teacher pension debt] definitely helped,” LaGrange said.

For schools that see decreases in enrollment, the changes at the state level — though still helpful — won’t offer the same funding boost in the coming years. Administrators at those schools had to rely more on savings they’d made over the years as they offered their teachers raises.

At Northeast Dubois, for example, Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said much of the funding for the raises in the corporation’s two-year contract with its classroom teachers association came from the referendum that voters passed in 2016.

“We’re slowly starting to get [teacher pay] back to where we’d like it to be,” Hochgesang said.

Under the recently approved contract, teachers not at the top of the corporation’s pay scale will move four steps on the scale — equaling a $2,000 base pay increase — in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school year. Teachers at the top of the pay scale will receive a $1,750 increase in base pay and a $250 stipend both years.

While most of the funding for the raises came from the referendum, Hochgesang didn’t discredit the changes made at the state level.

“It did help,” he said. “It was appreciated.”

Southeast Dubois Superintendent Jamie Pund also said her district appreciated the actions at the state level to put more funds in the hands of local administrators.

“That was part of the money we were able to give,” Pund said. “It certainly helped.”

As Pund worked with her corporation’s classroom teachers association to settle on a one-year agreement, however, she had to be cautious with the raises she offered. Enrollment has been dropping at Southeast Dubois, so Pund had to make sure the corporation would be able to fund the raises if that trend continued.

“That is for us very much a concern,” she said. “You never quite know what enrollment is going to do.”

The negotiations ended with an additional $2,500 on the base for teachers at the bottom of the pay scale, $2,000 for teachers in the middle and $1,000 for teachers at the top. Pund said the two sides felt comfortable with those raises because the corporation saved some funds on hiring younger teachers as some at the top have retired.

At North Spencer Schools, Superintendent Dan Scherry said the changes at the state level have given him more flexibility in his budget that he could combine with funds the corporation has saved over the last decade by making several adjustments and not replacing teachers that retired or left. Still, Scherry said he’s not dedicating all the available savings into guaranteed salaries because if enrollment drops, so will the amount of money the school has to work with.

Still, North Spencer’s teachers saw a raise in the contract for 2019-20. Teachers with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, but less than 25 1/2 years of experience, will receive $1,860 on their base, and teachers with a master’s degree and more than 25 1/2 years of experience will receive $2,490 added to their base.

Greater Jasper Schools offered the largest raises of the local school districts, with each of the district’s teachers receiving $3,596 added to the base salary for each of the two years covered by the contract. The corporation will also make $40,000 the starting salary on the corporation’s pay scale beginning in the 2020-21 school year, something Superintendent Tracy Lorey said the corporation has been wanting to do for a while.

The corporation also decided to use the funds saved on teacher pension debt to help offset health care costs for full-time staff in an effort to improve the entire compensation package. Lorey said the corporation was hesitant to use those funds for guaranteed salaries because they came from a one-time payment to teacher pension debt.

“We’re not certain that will be a long-term fix,” she said.

State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said he was happy to see the schools in his district leveraging the changes at the state level for teacher compensation, as that was the legislature’s plan when making the changes.

“We would like to allocate more, but there are a lot of budget challenges that we had to deal with this cycle,” Messmer said.

One of those challenges was increasing the budget for the state’s Department of Child Services.

Messmer said leaders at the state level are aware of the challenges schools face when it comes to funding, especially those with declining enrollment like many in his district. He described the budget-writing process at the state level as a balancing act that has legislators struggling to find the right formula that awards enough tuition dollars per student at the base level to fund schools while also figuring out the complexity formula that adds funds to the base tuition for schools with large low-income populations. In the 2019 budget cycle, Messmer said, legislators focused on adjusting the complexity formula to make funding less dependent on the poverty index.

While Messmer knows it’ll be a continuing struggle to find the best way to fund public schools, he’s happy with the results he’s seen from the changes this year.

“I’m just very excited,” he said. “All of the [school] districts in my district saw significant teacher pay raises.”




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