South Bend teachers say they’re underappreciated by administration, push for salary increases
Numerous South Bend Community School Corporation teachers said they’re underpaid and underappreciated by the administration during a Monday night school board meeting discussing the district's 2022 budget.
During the budget presentation, assistant superintendent Kareemah Fowler said the district is facing revenue challenges due to enrollment declines and new property tax caps in St. Joseph County.
Fowler said those caps will lead to a loss of $14 million in revenue this year, and that the district plans to offset that loss with money from the June 2020 school referendum, which was estimated to bring in just under $21 million per year. That leaves about $8 million for other uses.
The referendum was advertised as a way of increasing teacher salaries and expanding student educational opportunities, but numerous teachers said Monday night that the 2022 budget doesn’t do enough towards those goals.
"Our teachers worked to sell the referendum," NEA-South Bend President Linda Lucy said. "Please look at this recommended budget and expand your vision of every teacher and student's value."
But numerous teachers spoke up during the Monday board meeting, saying the budget doesn’t prioritize salary increases. They also say they’re overworked and stressed due to the challenges of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And this fall, additional issues including a lack of substitutes, large class sizes and the extra 80 minutes a week teachers are working without pay this year are pushing some to leave the profession altogether.
Fowler said that with salary increases approved last year, district starting pay is now at $41,000, which is above the Indiana statewide goal of $40,000. The district also awarded $1,500 COVID-19 stipends to employees who worked during the pandemic.
But Cecilia Stanton-Verduzco, who has been teaching in South Bend for 15 years, said more should be done to retain existing employees.
"I have seen many of my friends — amazing teachers — leave South Bend Schools for surrounding corporations, and we continue to see teachers leave this corporation,” Stanton-Verduzco said. “I continue to hear the excuse that the starting salary for teachers has been raised and is competitive, but what happened to those of us that are in the middle?"
Fellow teacher Beckie Hernandez agreed. She’s currently the International Baccalaureate coordinator at Adams High School and has worked for the district since 2006.
“Do you know how much easier it would be to have good relationships with our kids and to tackle the learning loss if we weren’t hemorrhaging our best and brightest?” Hernandez said. “Who are not leaving the teaching profession, rather they’re moving to other districts where they’re respected as the professionals and masters of the craft that they are?”
Hernandez said that this past year, her salary was $41,940.
“‘But Beckie,’ you say, ‘That’s only $940 more than the starting salary of a new hire with a master’s degree and 16 years of teaching experience,’” Hernandez said. “Why yes, yes it is. Thank you for noticing.”
And several teachers invited administrators to visit their classrooms.
"After 22 years of service to the students of my school, not one outreach has been made to me or my coworkers besides a districtwide Google Form," elementary teacher Melissa Rowe said. “Please — a phone call, an email, an appointment to meet. Anything to get input through conversation.”
Board member Jeanette McCullough called for an independent audit of school spending in light of recent school closures and outsourcing of some district services.
The board voted to close Hay and Tarkington Elementary Schools earlier this year, and Tarkington was later sold to an Indianapolis-based charter for $1 in requirement of a state law that requires schools to offer unused buildings to charters.
But closing those two schools only saved the district $240,000.
Fowler said the district is trying to increase spending on educational purposes, but that it needs to be “right-sized” even if that means school closures and outsourcing.
"Our district is still operating as if it has almost 25,000 students,” Fowler said. “We don't have 25,000 students, so we need to do the necessary things to ensure that we operate within our means."
And one parent, Catrina Baker, said she just placed her children back in corporation schools. But she said may consider enrolling them elsewhere again if teachers are not respected.
“If this doesn’t change, we will leave,” Baker said. "All these teachers in here are over-tired, they are stretched, they're overworked. Do you not think that pool spills over to our children?"
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