Josh and Carlee Sluder, 11 year Vigo County School Corp. middle school teachers.
Josh and Carlee Sluder, 11 year Vigo County School Corp. middle school teachers.
Carlee and Josh Sluder are in their 11th year as Vigo County School Corp. middle school teachers, and both are committed to their students and profession.

“I don’t want to do anything else,” said Carlee Sluder. “My heart is in teaching.”

Josh echoes her comments. “I love what I do,” he said. That’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was in middle school.”

But after years of dedicated service, their pay isn’t what it should be, they say. They are among a group of VCSC teachers who began their careers after the state in 2011 did away with a salary schedule that allowed automatic pay increases based on years of experience.

As a result, the Sluders say they’ve lost ground through the years, especially in those years where the district was only able to pay a one-time stipend because of budget constraints. And while the new, two-year teacher contract makes important inroads — including a new salary schedule and $4,000 in increased pay over two years — the disparity has not been addressed.

The Sluders describe this group of teachers as the “lost generation,” and they’re speaking out with the hopes of making a difference.

They started this year at about $42,000 in base pay. While the contract will boost them to $44,000 this year and $46,000 next year, a new teacher next year will make $40,000.

Carlee Sluder recently asked VCSC teachers to participate in an informal, voluntary survey, shared through social media groups in which many VCSC teachers are affiliated. In the survey, teachers were asked level of education; years of experience, total; years employed by VCSC; starting salary in VCSC; current salary in VCSC (not considering new contract).

Not every VCSC teacher had access to the survey, and 113 teachers participated [VCSC has more than 1,000 teachers]. However, according to Carlee Sluder, the data pulled from the informal survey “was consistent” and her findings indicated:

• Prior to the new contract, a 10-year teacher was making only $4,000 more than a first-year teacher, while a 20-year teacher made $13,000 more than a 10-year teacher, based on those teachers with a bachelor’s degree.

“On average, then, a 10-year teacher’s experience is worth $400 a year, and a 20-year teacher’s experience is worth $1,300 a year. A teacher who entered VCSC in 2001 is ‘worth’ $900 more per year than a teacher who entered in 2011, even though both groups have the same experience level over their younger generation,” Carlee Sluder wrote in an opinion piece.

“For the lost generation, this insinuates that their years of experience are not valued,” she said.

She praises the efforts of the Vigo County Teachers Association for the improvements made in the new contract, including the new salary schedule. “While this new contract gives everyone some upward momentum, it does not acknowledge those gaps in pay,” she stated.

First year teachers deserve the better pay they’ll be receiving, “but the lost generation deserves to be paid what they were deprived of during all those years they kept sticking it out, hoping for better years ahead,” Carlee Sluder stated.

Progress made, more work to be done

In response to the concerns raised, VCTA and VCSC provided a joint statement.

State law requires the VCSC to negotiate directly with the Vigo County Teachers Association, it read. This fall, the VCTA and the VCSC worked together to bargain a contract that was ratified by a vote of 528-54.

“Much of the work of this bargaining session was focused on a state mandate to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000 by the start of next school year,” it stated. In addition, “We were also successful in bringing a salary schedule back to our district so teachers can envision how their careers can progress.”

The joint statement concluded, “The district is continuing to discuss ways to increase revenue, which will provide more opportunities for discussion during future bargaining sessions.”

Heidi McDonald, VCTA president, provided a separate statement on behalf of the teachers union.

VCTA and the school district “spent countless hours during informal bargaining in developing a salary schedule for our contract this year. For the VCTA, this has been a major goal, since our past schedule had been frozen and eventually removed from our contracts due to compliance issues from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board [IEERB],” she wrote.

IEERB has developed rules and guidance to lead school employees and employers through the labor relations process, according to its website.

McDonald’s statement continued: “The VCTA has been fortunate that the VCSC has been willing to spend the time needed to develop a salary schedule that would benefit our teachers as well as be compliant with the state regulations on our contracts. We were fortunate not only to bring the salary schedule back, but to work on providing increases to our teachers over the next two years of this contract. Currently our teachers will receive a total of $4,000 over the next two years, of which the majority will be in base salary increases.

“Working in conjunction with the VCSC we have been able to also increase the starting salary of new teachers to $40,000 by next school year, in compliance with the state mandate, and in the hopes of attracting more people to the profession in the future. Our current and potential teachers can now look at the salary schedule and see where they are and where they can be as they continue to dedicate their time to the profession of teaching.”

McDonald concluded, “While we at the VCTA always know there is more work to be done, we see this as a huge step in the right direction. The work we have done with the corporation has allowed us to provide salary increases over the next two years in a way that is equitable to all teachers at every level in our corporation, and to continue to do that as we bargain movement in the future.”

Stacy Hughes, IEERB executive director, said the problem of disparity is one that exists at school districts statewide. “We have quite a few trying to resolve that problem,” she said. IEERB “recognizes corporations and unions are struggling to pay those teachers who are caught in the middle.”

State rules do include provisions that can be used to help address the problem of pay inequities, based on a factor described as “academic needs of students,” she said.

“We have quite a few districts trying to resolve that particular problem,” Hughes said. “That is great to see because everybody wants to keep really good teachers in the classroom.”

Kim Fidler, an Indiana State Teachers Association representative who works with VCTA in negotiating teacher contracts, agrees there is a salary disparity for teachers of different levels of experience. She attributes much of the problem to a Republican-dominated legislature that has enacted laws detrimental to teachers and public education.

“I have studied the laws and found ways to legally bargain steps and ways to reward teachers for additional education and degrees,” Fidler says “Unfortunately, after a decade of detrimental laws, I cannot fix the problems overnight.”

Some of the factors contributing to pay issues have included lack of state funding; evaluation of teachers based on student test scores; and restrictions on pay that can be given for years of experience and additional education and degrees, she said.

The “academic needs of students” factor cited by IEERB’s Hughes has been used in developing the salary schedule, Fidler said.

Carlee Sluder understands that state funding is an issue and that educators and those supportive of public education need to vote for education-friendly candidates. The Sluders believe the state is “absolutely the biggest contributor” to the salary equity dilemma.

But in the meantime, the Vigo County School Corp. “needs to find a way to do right by its employees,” she said.

She believes more can be done and she’d like to see the district’s plans to address it. “I hope that the VCSC administration and school board keep these areas of improvement in mind for future decision-making,” she said.
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