Morristown fifth grade teacher Lisa Lee read a letter explaining why she would not continue teaching at the Shelby Eastern School Board meeting Wednesday evening, claiming that her pay was “inequitable.”

“Tomorrow is my last day teaching my fab fifth graders at Morristown Elementary School,” Lee said. “I’m sad about that. I’m still surprised and sorry that it has come to this, in what I consider a profession in which we are supposed to model fairness and equity. My salary is not fair nor is it equitable to my peers based on experience within the same school, let alone the district.”

The district hired Lee four years ago. Lee has 26 years of teaching experience, however all of that experience is at various schools in other states, and most Indiana school districts, including Shelby Eastern, do not recognize any experience teachers obtain outside Indiana.

So really, even though Lee has 26 years of teaching experience, she was hired as if she had none.

“I understand that when I was hired, I was offered the most that could be paid at that time; however, since that time, I discovered I was granted zero experience,” she said. “Additionally, new teachers have been hired and received significantly more compensation than I currently receive, even though they have less experience than me.”

Lee said she’d questioned that twice, last year and this year.

“I’m still held to the contract I was hired under four years ago,” she said. “I never expected to be placed on a pay scale rewarding all of my out of state experience, that’s never happened, and this is the sixth state I’ve taught in.”

“Is it not in the best interest of SES to have equitable pay among teachers based on experience within our profession?” she asked.

It was for these reasons, she decided not to sign a new teacher contract with the district.

Lee’s last day was Thursday, the final day before SES fall break. Her students will have a different teacher when they return from the break.

“I feel humiliated and unvalued as a professional,” she said.

A few of her former students appeared before the board to say some last words to her before she left.

“I am going to say this on behalf of everybody here, that when we were in fifth grade in 2019, we were in the fifth grade class and we had a fabulous time in it,” one student said. “Mrs. Lee did a good job making the class fun and enjoyable, but also bringing the educational purpose of the classroom to all of us to help us learn and grow to be smarter people.”

The policy regarding teacher pay is tricky, Superintendent Todd Hitchcock explained following the meeting.

“We’ve had contract clauses that say if you come from out of state you don’t get credit for that teaching experience,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for districts to have a clause like that, for a couple of reasons. We view teaching in Indiana as better than out of state because we have higher academic standards.”

He said some school districts have started to do away with this clause, but even if SES did the same, they wouldn’t be able to just give Lee a raise because of restrictions set by the state.

“The problem is once you’re in, and you’ve agreed to a salary, and you’ve started, Indiana does not permit us to give raises based only on experience,” Hitchcock said. “We have a law that prevents that. It has to be based on experience, it has to be based on degree, and it has to be based on evaluation from the previous year.”

Additionally, the district adopted a salary schedule last year that allows every teacher to get a raise each year. This makes it hard for the district to step out of those boundaries.

“It’s a tough situation, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said. “We hate to see her leave, she’s an outstanding teacher and we wish her the best wherever she ends up.”

Hitchcock added that this situation – not recognizing all of a teacher’s experience – is fairly common among many districts because there was a period of time where schools were tight on money and hired teachers at year zero.

“Many schools in Indiana went through a time when they were hard on money because we weren’t adequately funded,” he said. “Teachers who may have wanted to teach at a school district, the district said, ‘You can come teach for us, but we have to start you at year zero because we can’t afford to pay you the top end salary.’ So there were a lot of schools that hired teachers in at that.

“So we have teachers who have taught in Indiana their whole career who aren’t getting all their years experience on their step schedule, and Lisa’s situation is in the same boat as them,” he said. “Her’s is more egregious, but we have other teachers who are a year or two behind here, or maybe three or four years behind here, and it’s an unfortunate situation.”

Hitchcock said SES is trying to remedy this by bumping up everyone’s pay as much as they can. This is apparent in the new teacher contract the board approved Wednesday evening, which included a $3,250 pay increase to first year teachers returning for a second year and $2,000 for second year teachers returning for a third year.

“I’m excited about that contract, as well as some ECA pay increases and a couple insurance things, and some language that I think will help provide us more flexibility in hiring new teachers in the future,” Hitchcock told the board.
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