Since the peak of the “Red For ED” movement teachers nationwide have been demanding higher pay. In some places they got it. In others, pay still lags behind. Teacher pay is always a sensitive subject because most schools are not for-profit entities. They are paid for by taxpayers. If recent referendums are any metric to go on, the taxpayers support more education funding … specifically higher teacher pay. With that being said, many school districts still won’t do it. In spite of the political will technically existing to pay teachers more, it is still easy for districts to get away with paying teachers less. Afterall, in many places said school district is virtually the only large employer of teachers so there is not a lot of pressure from competition.
That has never really been the case here in Indianapolis. Eleven different districts and numerous charter and private schools give teachers with a wandering eye lots of options to consider and schools lots of competition to weigh themselves against. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue because we now find ourselves in the best job market in years. Lots of employers are struggling to keep employees happy. This is the case Pike Township finds themselves in now.
The district has been forced to cancel in person classes several times after instructional staff called in sick amid a pay dispute. Pike’s starting salaries may seem competitive for teachers but lacks it for mid-career teachers in comparison to surrounding districts. When this is combined with a superintendent that makes close to 200k a year, these are all the optics needed to set up a battle. It is also worth noting there have already been previous disruptions in Pike Township due to an ongoing bus driver shortage.
There are several ways this situation can be analyzed, fiscally or ethically. But as a teacher who has also thought about leaving in the past couple of years, this is clearly an economic issue. These debates often get heated and turn personal but at their core they are simple.
Any ECON 101 student can tell you how supply and demand works: We are in a teacher shortage – Scarcity creates value – Schools have to pay teachers more. That’s it.
Often because we are dealing with budgets you will hear districts claim they can’t afford to pay teachers more. But when a district hasn’t even asked for a referendum and is losing teachers to areas with similar socioeconomic bases that becomes hard to buy.
In this market the traditional power structure has been turned on its head. At the end of the year schools typically evaluate their teachers to see if they want to retain them. Now it’s the other way around … and some are not even waiting to the end of the year. I’m sure there is some accountant in the district claiming they can’t afford to pay teachers more, but the market is saying they can’t afford not to. They don’t have to listen, but the next time those teachers call out it might be for good. The district can’t handle that loss as evident by them canceling school.