Guest column: Referendum would allow for boost in teacher compensation

By MARCIA DEBOCK, guest columnist

This is the third and final column from the Brown County Partnership, providing explanation and recommendation for a favorable vote for the Brown County School Corporation’s request for an additional 8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation on Brown County real estate.

The Career Resource Center represents an additional 1 cent to continue operations for the next seven years. The remaining 7 cents will revise and improve our teachers’ compensation plan.

It would help to compare the current salary plan with the proposed plan structured by our school board. Then, considering the competitive challenges that rural communities, like Brown County, face to retain, recruit and support a quality teaching staff, it will be helpful to consider these challenges as well.

The place to begin is with state regulations, since these impose some specific limits for budgeting overall and for addressing teacher compensation in particular. According to state law, teachers can no longer receive salary increases based on experience. Experience is defined as time on the job, obtaining advanced degrees or special certifications, etc. These are common practices, however, in the private (business) sector.

In preparing this article, I spent considerable time with our school superintendent, David Shaffer. He explained that teacher performance evaluations are conducted annually. Receiving a grade of “effective” or “highly effective” makes a teacher eligible to receive a salary increase. Other criteria includes student academic improvement (testing in the classroom) and the overall grade their school receives from the state.

It is also law that no school district can enter into collective bargaining that will create a budget deficit.

Up to this year, Brown County Schools reorganized in order to save 12 teaching positions, to avoid a structural deficit and to maintain a break-even budget. Modest salary increases and stipends (for taking on extra responsibilities, like coaching, for example) have been given, which has helped a little.

At this point, it seems that the school corporation is out of options, except to add a modest revenue stream for future budgets. Brown County is tied to its fixed capital expenses. Further consolidation, or closing school buildings, does not support our community’s preferences.

We aren’t alone, as these challenges are common to rural communities like ours. As a matter of fact, salaries and benefits comprise 95 percent of the $13.5 million general fund in Brown County, when 89 percent is recommended in order to allocate 11 percent for overhead expenses and infrastructure maintenance.

It is this writer’s understanding that 7 cents of the 8-cent referendum request will be used to strengthen teacher compensation.

The referendum, if approved by voters May 3, is structured to provide both a funding solution and to ensure academic quality. Additional funding will:

Enable BCSC to retain our “effective” and “highly effective” teaching staff and ensure our children have the best academic preparation, continuity among the teaching staff and effective guidance throughout their school years in Brown County

Enable BCSC to establish a competitive recruiting process that will be successful in attracting teaching talent in the face of a statewide teacher shortage;

Allow BCSC to model and deliver a compensation plan, with prescribed salary scales, so that teachers know what they can expect in raises over defined periods in their careers and on what basis;

Allow BCSC to add teaching staff for new academic programs;

Buy BCSC time for Indiana legislators to revise their current funding formula for rural Indiana school districts. The current formula is $x (head count on a date prescribed by the state) = state funding for the district. This formula doesn’t take into account the challenges and costs of transporting students to school every day, across our rural landscape.

Avoid staff cuts that would inevitably result in higher class sizes.

We can begin to understand the steps our school corporation has taken over the past several years to allocate its funds responsibly. These points form the basis for our Brown County Partnership Group supporting the May 3 referendum.

According to Carol Bowden, school board member since 2007, “Our children and grandchildren deserve the same educational opportunities as those in other communities in order to excel, gain valuable competencies, and to find productive and satisfying work. We want them to return to Brown County able to support themselves and their families.”

Teachers deliver knowledge, embrace our Brown County culture inside and outside the classroom, and actively participate in shaping the future quality of our children’s lives and the sustainability of our Brown County life.

All these facts compel us to consider that supporting this referendum is not only important to our community’s future, but also our way of saying “Thank you.”

See you May 3!

Marcia DeBock of Brown County is a member of the Brown County Partnership, a coalition of community leaders whose goal is to maintain dialog between government and community and to ensure that community needs and priorities are addressed.