‘Schools are not businesses.’ Inside the teacher pay commission

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — “Schools are not businesses. They are an extension of our families and you can’t run a family like you run a business all the time.”

Nancy Jordan says that was her biggest “a-ha” moment during the nearly two years she served on Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission.

Last week, the group released its report which suggested average pay for Hoosier teachers should be $60,000 per year. They also included 37 steps schools and politicians could take to get there.

Jordan was one of four business people on the commission; the rest came from education. While the governor might have valued her background as a senior vice president at Lincoln Financial, past president of the Allen County Capital Improvement Board and other statewide volunteer positions, Jordan cites her early work as financial director at Martin Luther King Montessori as most helpful.

“We had a great motto there, and it’s a paraphrase of a Frederick Douglass quote, but it was that ‘it’s better to build a child than to repair an adult.'”

To do that, Jordan says Indiana must have the best teachers possible. During countless talks with teachers and former teachers she learned most didn’t want to get rich but didn’t want to work a second or third job to support their families, either.

“I can’t tell you how many teachers I talked to who have left the profession and who would go back if they could support their families. So not only do we have the opportunity to retain our current teachers, and to encourage other people to go into the profession, we have a lot of incredible teachers out there who would love to come back to the schools if they could just make ends meet.”

The commission began in early 2019. It was slowed by the pandemic but not stopped.

“It was a very, very data driven effort. Because our scope was teacher compensation, it needed to be very data driven, not just an emotional ‘we all want to pay our teachers more’ but what is competitive teacher pay? Literally hundreds of experts around the state and across the country, where it made sense, helped us gather and scrub data.”

Beyond the data experts and teachers, Jordan also cites three key “amazing professionals” who helped educate her: recently retired Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools Wendy Robinson, FWCS Chief Operating Officer Charles Cammack and FWCS Chief Financial Officer Kathy Friend.

“You know, I respected the teaching profession before I joined this commission,” says Jordan. “But my respect has grown probably 100-fold over the course of this work. I don’t like to think of myself as a Grinch but I could feel my heart growing with every conversation with every teacher – so many both heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories.”

Jordan is optimistic the state will figure it out and make teacher pay competitive again.

“Hoosiers are terrific problem solvers. When we put our our heart and our soul and our brains into an issue, we figure it out and we make it better. The report is a first step. It’s a complicated situation and every school corporation is as different as the families that they serve. It’s really got to be a collection of actions that we do.

“If we had a forest fire, we would put it out. If there was a tornado, we would clean it up. We have a pivotal issue here that we have got to pay attention to.”

Nancy Jordan, member Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission

Jordan says the public can use the data dashboard on the Commission website to compare districts on teacher compensation, expenditures, revenues, and demographics.

“As we go forward and we hopefully see things changing, you’ll be able to see that map change.”

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