Zombie teacher-pay bill rises from the dead

Somebody really wants the Indiana legislature to pass a law that will let school superintendents give raises to favored teachers outside the bounds of union-negotiated contracts. Somebody with clout. Otherwise the supplemental-pay measure would have died last week when the state Senate, responding to overwhelming opposition from teachers and their supporters, refused to pass it.

But it didn’t. House leaders kept the idea alive Monday when they breathed new life into Senate Bill 10, which lawmakers had previously said wasn’t going to become law.

The controversial Republican-sponsored legislation lives again.

Both chambers had approved versions of the same bill – House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 10 – which would, among other things, let superintendents award higher salaries to certain teachers. The votes were close: 57-42 in the House and 26-24 in the Senate (where Republicans have a 39-11 majority).

The extra-pay language in the Senate bill is actually worse, in the eyes of teachers’ unions, which strongly oppose both. It would let superintendents award higher pay “to attract or retain a teacher as needed” while the House bill would allow extra pay only to hire for a position “that is difficult to fill.”

Also, the House bill would require the superintendent to present justification for additional pay to the school board in a public meeting. The Senate bill would let that happen behind closed doors.

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Pay lags – badly – for Indiana teachers

Indiana used to have a reputation for paying its public school teachers reasonably well. Not today. Hoosier teachers have seen some of the biggest pay losses in the country over the past 10 years.

That’s according to the 2014-15 “Rankings and Estimates” report published this month by the National Education Association. The report tracks data for the U.S. schools and the education workforce.

One figure really jumps out. Indiana teachers are making 13 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than they did a decade ago. That’s the second-worst record in the nation, ahead of only North Carolina, where real wages have fallen by 17 percent.

Teresa Meredith (courtesy ISTA)

Teresa Meredith (courtesy ISTA)

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said stagnant pay adds to challenges that teachers face from state-mandated evaluation systems, limits on collective bargaining and increased scrutiny for student test scores.

“It kind of feels like we’ve taken huge steps backward in time in a lot of things,” she said. “And compensation is just one of them.”

Meredith traces some of the salary deflation to the property tax caps that Indiana adopted in 2008. Responsibility for school funding shifted from local to state taxes, and state revenues took a big hit with the recession. In 2010 Gov. Mitch Daniels cut K-12 education funding by $300 million.

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