The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 07, 2020 1:00 am

Teacher pay recommendations put on hold

Report for legislators pushed from summer as pandemic hit state

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration is sitting on a 60-page draft report with more than 40 recommendations on teacher pay until after the election.

The Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission was appointed in February 2019 to look at long-term solutions for raising teacher salaries. Originally a report was expected this summer so legislators could consider it when crafting a new two-year state budget in January.

But when the coronavirus hit, the report was pushed to the second half of the year.

Now, Chairman Michael Smith, a retired Indianapolis business executive, said it wouldn't be fair to release the report given the tenuous financial shape the state is in.

He told The Journal Gazette the public will see it, but he doesn't know when – “likely not before the election but it isn't related,” Smith said.

Holcomb spokeswoman Rachel Hoffmeyer would only say “while the pandemic caused a significant interruption, the commission is continuing to work toward a final report to be released before the end of the year. Commission members continue to monitor the financial impact of the pandemic, analyze data and work with stakeholders to develop recommendations. The commission's most recent meeting was in February.”

Smith said the panel was charged with confirming a pay gap with 12 surrounding and benchmark states and bring recommendations on how to fix it.

He said those recommendations include increased funding, reduced spending and potential policy changes.

“We would like to have been done now. The pandemic changed lots of things,” he said. “We have to be respectful of what is going on. There are a lot of important issues before the state right now.”

The Journal Gazette requested minutes of the meetings but did not receive them by press time.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said teachers are under more pressure than ever and it's time to find the money to pay them appropriately.

“We understand conditions have changed and it is going to make it more difficult for the governor and legislators to work to fix that,” he said. “I'm not sure why they are holding back. If it is for political reasons, then I think that's weak on their part.”

The group had a member on an advisory panel aiding the commission but not a voting member.

“In the end, our position remains the same. We know that the overwhelming reason folks leave the profession is due to pay. And if we are going to ever get a handle on the shortage we are facing for teachers and be able to retain the best and to attract folks into the profession we are going to have to do better in pay,” Gambill said.

Smith said the commission has met 17 times in all plus three public hearings and a number of other subcommittee meetings. He said he continues to have dialogue on the topic as the group waits to see if Indiana's monthly tax revenues improve.

“In fairness to all parties it felt almost disingenuous to call for more funding at a time when the financial position is precarious,” Smith said.

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