As Indianapolis Public Schools tries to decide how to divvy up limited resources, it is leaning toward a model that would benefit schools with experienced, highly-paid teachers at the expense of schools with more junior staff.
The district is moving toward a “weighted” budgeting system that will use a formula to set individual school budgets based on enrollment and need—a break from the current system that pays teachers and staff from a central budget without considering whether one school gets more money than another.
But which schools will come out ahead under the new structure—and which ones will lose out—will be determined over the next several months as IPS leaders decide what to factor into their formula.
For now, at least, it appears the district plans to protect schools with highly paid staff.
In a draft framework presented to the IPS board last week, the administration recommended a formula that would use the district’s average teacher salary to calculate school expenses.
This means that even if a school has a high number of teachers making the top IPS salary of around $71,000, the district will only count roughly $52,000 of each teacher’s salary—the district’s average teacher pay—when it calculates how much that school is spending compared to other schools.
The framework is designed to prevent principals from hiring junior teachers in hopes of stretching their budgets.
“This focuses on quality rather than cost,” said Weston Young, the chief financial officer for IPS. “It incentivizes school leaders to hire the best talent and not worry about the cost.”
But if the district goes forward with this method, it could come at the expense of schools that are largely staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers like School 15, which is among the poorest schools in the district. Last year, 97 percent of its students received subsidized meals. Teachers at the school were paid an average salary of $43,713, substantially less than the district average.
A formula that uses actual teacher salaries instead of average salaries would allow principals at places like School 15 to use the money they’re not spending on salaries to pay for other priorities like extra teachers, school counselors or art programming.
The way IPS currently funds schools, the district assigns a certain number of staff positions to each school. Principals then hire the teachers, counselors and other staff to fill those spaces but their salaries are paid centrally. Because the district pays salaries and provides resources like training and supplies, schools don’t have to budget for how much those things cost.
A new IPS analysis of funding disparities found that other factors, such as school enrollment, play a greater role in which schools across the district receive the most money per student. But many educators and school advocates remain wary of the new budgeting system for fear that it could force some schools to replace beloved educators with junior teachers who are less expensive.
Weighted budgeting, which is being piloted next year in six IPS schools, aims to give building leaders more control over how they use money in their schools. For example, a principal might choose to have fewer teachers—and slightly larger classes—and use the savings to hire extra teaching assistants. In the long-term, the school board is considering shifting to weighted budgeting districtwide.
The board has not made a decision on whether to use average salary, but it is a policy that some board members have hinted they favor.
At an April meeting, board member Kelly Bentley raised concerns that charging schools for the actual cost of paying their teachers would create a “perverse incentive” for principals to let go of their most experienced educators. It could be particularly problematic at magnet schools where teachers must undergo specialized training, she said.
“We don’t want people to not want to hire teachers because they are going to cost them more money,” Bentley said.
Board President Mary Ann Sullivan, however, said that she would like to see the district move to actual teacher salaries eventually because salaries are one of the most important factors in school budgeting.
“There has to be a way where you are able to free up the principals to have total control of those decisions—or add that burden to them,” she said.
Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.