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The Anderson Community Schools board of trustees is stuck.

And only the state legislature can set it free.

ACS board members know that, by and large, teachers, classroom aides, administrators and other support staff deserve and need a raise. The work they do is so important and their pay isn’t what it should be. Plus, they need more help in the classroom and more teaching resources to assure that students get a well-rounded education.

But the school system simply doesn’t have enough money to give robust raises and pump up resources, not even after a $1.8 million referendum for operating expenses passed in 2018.

On Tuesday night, the board did what it could, awarding a 1.25% annual raise and a $2,000 stipend to certified and noncertified staff. Administrators, paraeducators and school food service workers received stipends but no annual raises. Administrators will get $2,866; para-educators will get from $500 to $1,000, depending on how long they’ve worked for ACS; and food service workers will receive $500.

Board member Jean Chaille voted lobbied for raises for administrators, saying a stipend only was not equitable, would not add to base pay and would hurt staff morale. But some of her colleagues defended the decision as painful but fiscally responsible, noting that they will have to cut $2 million in expenses from the ACS budget in 2020.

Board President Patrick Hill said the district has only one month of reserves.

“We’re not in a dire situation, but we’re in a line where we really don’t want to go down much further,” said Jeff Barranco, a board member who works in public finance. “We are the financial stewards of this district, and that may require us to make some hard decisions a year or two down the road.”

On Tuesday, ACS will have an “e-learning day” for students so that teachers can join thousands of colleagues from around Indiana at the Red for Ed rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. They’ll demand better working conditions, more classroom support and increased pay.

Indiana ranked in the middle of the pack nationally for teacher pay adjusted for cost of living during the 2017-18 school year, according to Wallet Hub and Business Insider. But only five states have experienced a greater decline in teacher salaries than Indiana’s 10.6% since the 1999-2000 school year, according to the latter.

Education is the pathway to the future for Indiana, and that future will directly reflect the quality of today’s education. Teacher pay, benefits, resources and working conditions should be among the very highest priorities in the 2020 General Assembly.

The biennial budget passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in the spring added an estimated $760 million for education spending in Indiana in 2020-2021, but did not include money for increases in teacher base pay.

It’s high time the state legislature started pumping money into salaries for teachers and support staff. That would put school boards in a better position to make sure staff and administrators are adequately compensated and strongly supported in their efforts to educate the children of Anderson and other Indiana communities.

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