Legislation could ‘pit teacher against teacher’

Friday, August 18, 2017

School boards across the state have changed the way a Teacher Appreciation Grant (TAG) will be distributed at the end of the year. For better or worse, due to this being a requirement at the state level, our local schools are adopting the new policy with fear of losing the grant’s funding if they do not.

Prior to the change, administrators would give teachers rated as “highly effective” $1 more in order to keep pay for stipends fair across the board.

The change will require administrations to reward teachers who receive “highly effective” ratings to be awarded 25 percent more than teachers who are rated as “effective.” Funds will be distributed using a formula, which will give $30 multiplied by the average daily membership of a school corporation. In a sense, this new method will balance out funds to make the grant money available more fair to smaller schools such as the ones we have in Greene County.

However, some area superintendents have concerns this could lead to an unhealthy competition amongst staff.

When presenting the new policy to his school board earlier this month, Shakamak superintendent Mike Mogan stated he could see increased pressure on administrators on deciding who receives highly effective marks.

“I could see some teachers, I hope not here (at Shakamak), maybe not wanting to be as giving of their lesson plans or helping someone,” Mogan said.

He reiterated the statement that the board didn’t have a choice in adopting the policy due to the possible loss of funding.

“It’s going to be more competition between our teachers,” Mogan said.

Shakamak’s school board expressed concerns about teachers not having control of the students they get, which could affect performance ratings.

Linton-Stockton superintendent Nick Karazsia said from his perspective as a former coach, competition can bring out the best in people. However, this may not be the case with the new system.

“There’s a chance this change would pit teacher against teacher,” he said. “Teachers within one-tenth of a point of each other could be receiving significantly more for their stipend. We want to reward all of our teachers, but this says one group gets more than our effective staff.”

White River Valley superintendent Bob Hacker stated the change will hurt the culture of the school building.

“Teachers won’t want to work together,” he said. “I’m all for rewarding great teachers, but this could affect their ability to teach and it could create animosity.”

Hacker added the new changes “go against everything teachers have been trying to do” by having students work together for a variety of group assignments.

Bloomfield superintendent Jeff Gibboney echoed the thoughts and concerns of other area superintendents, stating there would be a potential chance for teachers to no longer work together.

“We believe that both effective and highly effective teachers are doing a great job. Why is there a need to distinguish between the two?” he said. “We believe our staff must work collaboratively for the good of the school and betterment of the students.”

Eastern Greene superintendent Ted Baechtold said the difference in the end-of-year stipend for teachers in his corporation will be roughly $100 and while he has some concerns, he hopes the changes will push teachers to strive for highly effective marks.

“The legislators didn’t think the $1 difference was enough, and our teachers should be rewarded fairly,” Baechtold said. “If I was still a teacher, I would be working hard to get highly effective.”

He added while he doesn’t have a firm stance on the issue, he does see the benefits and drawbacks of this new policy.

“Some might see it as more competition between teachers, but they’re competing against a rubric, not themselves,” he said.

Throughout the past week, there have been various attempts to contact Indiana Superintendent of Education Jennifer McCormick for clarification on why these changes were made, but as of Friday no answers have been provided.

Schools in Greene County are tight-knit communities. It has been our observation the staffs of each school will go out of their way to help one another, and we hope this new policy change will not affect the relationships between our wonderful teachers. While we can understand the thought process behind the decision to change the policy and increase high performing teacher stipends, it almost feels as though it insinuates our teachers are not already giving it their all, and then some, for their classes.