A handful of parents and educators spoke out against a proposed raise for Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee at school board hearing Tuesday night, calling on the district to spend the money on other needs.
The board is considering modifying Ferebee’s contract to extend the term from 2017 to 2019 and bump his potential pay to $287,000 per year beyond the benefits all administrators receive. That’s about $64,000 above his current pay maximum.
Fewer than ten community members trekked out to the first public hearing on the contract change, held at School 103 on the far Northeast side of the district. But those who spoke to the board were clear that they would like to see the district skip the raise for Ferebee and spend the money on supplies and teacher pay.
The proposed increase in Ferebee’s pay comes at the same time as the district is beginning to pay raises and back pay to teachers. The raises, which were the first that teachers received in 5 years, were promised at the start of the year but they were held up by delays in ISTEP scores.
Some teachers are critical of offering a raise for Ferebee that significantly exceeds the raises educators received.
Keith Parrish, a behavior specialist at School 54, said that it’s not right to give Ferebee a raise after just two years with the district.
“We’ve got thousands of teachers that are still teaching at the same level that they were five years ago,” he said. “We did get a raise, but it felt like a slap in the face … to get a small raise and then to have this happen.”
For parents who spoke at the hearing, the primary concern was the cost of the raise.
Yolanda Wilkins, a parent at Crispus Attucks High School, said she spends about three days a week volunteering in the school, and she sees textbook and teacher shortages first hand.
“I’ve seen a lot of book sharing,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of teachers make photocopies of pages so that every kid can at least get the assignment. And I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ferebee said that he had followed up with school staff who said that Crispus Attucks has “ample textbooks for every content area.”
But Dorain Moore Sr., also a parent from Crispus Attucks, echoed Wilkins’ concern that the school doesn’t have enough teachers or textbooks. It’s teachers and students who deserve a raise, he said.
“It doesn’t make any difference if Ferebee stays or if he goes,” Moore said. “If this is about giving him a raise in order to stay, he can go.”
Ferebee recently received national notice for his work in Indianapolis when Education Week magazine named him a “Leader to Learn From,” which could make him an attractive prospect for other districts seeking superintendents.
Board President Mary Ann Sullivan said that the board had not explicitly discussed any pressure to increase Ferebee’s pay to keep him in the district, but retention is always a factor in pay decisions.
“We feel like we’re making a lot of great progress and we’re pleased with his leadership,” she said. “We want to make sure that he’s pleased to continue being a leader with us.”
The board is reviewing Ferebee’s contract now because it is set to expire June 30, 2017, and board members want to avoid a last-minute extension, Sullivan said.
The raise and additional benefits the board included put Ferebee’s compensation package in the same range as other superintendents in Marion County, she said.
Ferebee declined to say whether he has been approached by other districts, but he said he’s not looking to leave.
“I’m not driven by dollars and cents,” Ferebee said. “This is an opportunity for me that I think has been great, and my eyes aren’t on other opportunities right now. My eyes are on IPS.”
There are two more opportunities to weigh in on the proposed contract change at school board meetings at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 and Feb. 25 at 120 E. Walnut St. before the board votes.
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