Teachers give Holcomb’s commission ideas for increasing pay

The commission created by Gov. Eric Holcomb to find ways to boost teacher pay in Indiana heard from about two dozen current and former educators Monday night in its first public hearing.

The Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission is tasked with conducting research, receiving feedback and providing a report to Holcomb and state lawmakers before the 2021 legislative session.

More than 200 people attended the listening session at Ivy Tech Culinary and Conference Center in the first of three public hearings the commission has planned. The other two later this month will be in Evansville and Elkhart.

Many of the speakers repeated frustrations that were heard during the legislative session—complaining about salaries that have not increased in years or have decreased, emphasizing the importance of increasing teacher pay and talking about an ongoing teacher shortage.

Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said 642 jobs in K-12 education are currently open in the state.

“Indiana has pushed its teachers to the breaking point,” Gambill said. “More teachers are leaving the profession than ever before, and pay is the No. 1 reason.”

Some teachers had specific suggestions for how to increase teacher pay, including strengthening collective bargaining, finding a way to decrease health care costs, spending some of the state’s surplus, removing property-tax caps, redirecting dollars spent on standardized testing and giving teachers a $20,000 tax credit.

“I don’t think this is rocket science,” said Marydell Forbes, an English teacher from West Lafayette who mentioned cutting standardized testing costs and eliminating property-tax caps.

One of the most common suggestions was to reinstate salary schedules for teachers that would be based on years of experience and educational attainment. Legislation passed in 2011 eliminated traditional salary schedules and made compensation more dependent on student achievement.

Teresa Meredith, a former president of ISTA who is now a fourth grade teacher, said a salary schedule could provide educators some guarantee and confidence that they’ll know what they could earn in future years.

“I have colleagues who are afraid to start families,” Meredith said.

Some teachers also expressed irritation that they have already repeatedly shared the same concerns and recommendations with state lawmakers for years without change.

“We have been saying the same thing over and over,” Amber Seibert, an eighth grade English teacher, said. “I’m over it.”

Teacher pay was one of the key issues that surrounded the legislative session that ended in April. Republicans said they made significant progress in increasing K-12 funding and stressed that it is up to the local school districts to make sure the extra dollars go to teachers paychecks. Democrats argue the 2.5% annual increases to K-12 funding don’t go far enough.

Seibert also complained about the date and time of the hearing, pointing out that it could have been scheduled during the summer as opposed to after the new school year started.

“It’s a school night,” Seibert said. “I had all summer off.”

Commission Chairman Michael Smith, who is the former chairman, president and CEO of Mayflower Group, called the ideas that were shared “cheerful” and “thoughtful” after the two-hour meeting.

“You will keep me awake thinking about the challenges that you face,” Smith said.

The commission has previously been criticized for meeting privately and for lacking current teachers as members. Emily Holt, a math teacher at Westfield High School, is the only current teacher involved with the commission, but she is only an advisory member.

Holt was at the meeting Monday night, along with six other commission and advisory council members—Smith; Katie Jenner, senior education adviser to Holcomb; Tom Easterday, former senior executive vice president, secretary and chief legal officer for Subaru of Indiana Automotive; Melissa Ambre, director of the Office of School Finance for the Indiana Department of Education; Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, director of public education and CEO of Muncie Community Schools; and Dan Holub, executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Smith said they have already received more than 2,000 suggestions from nearly 800 teachers and concerned community members through an online submission form.

“I think it’s safe to say our governor is determined to lead us to a competitive position,” Smith said.

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