By ELIZABETH GABRIEL
At least 100 Pike Township Schools teachers, parents and students chanted and clutched signs outside of Central Elementary School before Thursday’s school board meeting, as they rallied in support of educator pay raises beyond the district’s current offer.
This comes as the district and the Pike Classroom Teachers Association are at a standstill over the new compensation contract. Monday is the state deadline for collective bargaining agreements. If the two sides can’t agree, a state mediator will step in.
The rally of support also coames a day after Pike leaders were forced to cancel classes for all 10,000 students due to 91 instruction staff members calling in sick amid the pay dispute.
The school district is currently offering the union $2.3 million, or an average of 4.6 percent, in pay increases. But PCTA has rejected that offer, and has asked for $3.5 million.
PCTA president Chris Ludy has had to quickly navigate new waters since stepping into the role about a year and a half ago. Now he’s advocating for more competitive pay raises so Pike won’t lose experienced teachers to other districts.
“If you look at a year-10 teacher that is only making $1.90 more per hour than a first-year teacher — which is only $2,000 to $3,000 — they look at what they could be making in other districts,” Ludy said. “And they start to look at their insurance and going, ‘Okay, our insurance is great. But if I can go to Hamilton Southeastern and get a $17,000 raise, no amount of insurance — however good it is — is going to keep me from going to another district.’”
What a board spending resolution could mean
During Thursday’s meeting, the school board approved a resolution to reduce planned district operating expenditures by around $10 million to $13 million. The district was authorized to spend $41 million, but now plan to spend around $30 million.
It’s possible the district could use a small portion of these uspent operating funds to increase its planned teacher compensation offer. But to do that would require more actions by the board.
The current salary range for Pike teachers is $44,000 to $89,405, according to the current contract. That’s more than the average starting salary for teachers in Indiana of $36,498, according to a report released by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Teacher Compensation Commission last year, but behind other Marion County districts.
For the past few years, pay has lagged behind for educators who are in what Ludy, the education association president, called ‘the middle years:’ teachers who have roughly five to 25 years of experience. But he said many school districts have since addressed this issue.
Neighboring school districts, such as the Indianapolis Public Schools district, have sought voter-approved property tax referendums and have used those funds to considerably boost teacher salaries. IPS recently approved a new starting salary of $49,100 for this academic year.
In 2010, Pike overwhelmingly won a levy for capital improvements. But Ludy said the district is reluctant to ask voters to approve a property-tax referendum for operating funds that could be used for teacher pay.
Pike teacher Terry Mitchell recently accepted a position in Washington Township because it comes with a big raise of 23 percent. Mitchell said he is frustrated with the district and Pike Superintendent Flora Reichanadter, whose base pay was $198,000 in 2017, according to the most recent contract on the district website.
“But over my 10-year career, I make 17 percent more than when I started,” Mitchell said. “So that means in the last two years, our superintendent has gotten more percentage of a raise than me in 10. Despite the fact that someone who makes over a quarter of a million dollars has said that I should live within my means, inflation means that for my means, I’ve got to look for a new job.”
Ludy did give the district some credit. He said Pike does have a good insurance plan and has provided competitive salaries for first-year and experienced teachers. But Ludy said the most experienced teachers still haven’t seen a significant pay increase in the past four or five years. And it’s even worse for middle year teachers.
Now the union just wants the school district to work with them to provide a fair contract.
Twenty-two parents, students and community members spoke in favor of the district increasing teacher pay during the public comment period of Thursday’s school board meeting.
Pike High School senior Mackenzie said the issue of low teacher pay has even become a discussion topic for students during lunch. She said she finds it disheartening that teachers are given poor compensation.
“These teachers are not just a neighborhood babysitters, and they deserve to be compensated at a rate that is respectable for a professional of their status,” Mackenzie said. “They are shaping our future generation and they deserve the best that we can give them.”
Despite the calls for action, the board didn’t address the compensation issue since the two parties are still negotiating.
Ludy said the teachers union appreciates the support of parents, in spite of school being cancelled yesterday.
“Our members love our students and want to be in the classroom,” Ludy said. “Our teachers are overburdened and are facing unsustainable levels of stress and stress related illness. And these moves by the administration are just making things worse.”
The district and the union will officially enter an impasse on Nov. 15. The two parties will then work with a mediator over a 30-day period. After that, other measures could be taken if needed.