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McCormick ‘disappointed’ with Gov. Holcomb’s plan for teacher pay

Indiana teacher pay

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction on Wednesday made it clear how she feels about Governor Eric Holcomb’s proposal for teacher pay raises in 2021.

“Last night’s State of the State was disappointing,” said Dr. Jennifer McCormick. “There were parts of it that highlighted the great things going on in the state, but teacher compensation is not one of them.”

Tuesday night Gov. Holcomb told the state he recommends that state lawmakers, in 2021, use $250 million from the budget surplus and put that toward teacher retirement funds.

“In turn, $50 million a year will be generated to redirect to teacher pay. Together, that’s $115 million more available annually to increase teacher pay,” said Holcomb Tuesday evening while delivering his State of the State speech.

Statehouse Republican leaders support the idea.

“It’s made to next year’s general assembly. So it’ll be up to those who are elected in the next election to lead on that issue, but it’s good for the governor to I think get the idea out on the table,” said Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives Brian Bosma, (R-Indianapolis) Tuesday evening, after the governor’s speech.

McCormick, who’s also a Republican, doesn’t buy it.

“Promises are promises,” McCormick said. “I also know too, having been a local superintendent, everybody’s saying ‘we’ll give you money at the next budget, the next biennium,’ but if the revenue is down, will we see those new dollars? We need them now.”

Nationally, the average annual teacher salary is $60,477. In Indiana, it’s almost $10,000 less. That’s lower than any of Indiana’s neighboring states.

“I know we’re still losing teachers. It’s hard to attract teachers. I talk to districts, they lost some at Christmas. We’re getting ready to lose some at the end of the school year. A boost in pay would’ve certainly helped with that,” said McCormick.

Indiana’s average starting teacher salary is almost $36,000. Among the surrounding states, only Ohio’s is lower — by $20.

“We saw, we heard the 15,000+ teachers who came wearing red for education in November. We heard their concerns. We’re willing to address their concerns. We’re willing to do that this year,” said Indiana Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tim Lanane, (D-Anderson).

McCormick had a message for teachers Wednesday, saying, “I’m hoping they will stay in with us and just keep in for the good fight.”

Wednesday, the American Federation of Teachers’ Indiana chapter President GlenEva Dunham, sent News 8 the following statement:

“The amount offered by Governor Holcomb in his State of the State address  is definitely not enough for teacher raises.  There is too much surplus monies in the State of Indiana for the Governor to offer teachers such a small amount.  The State of Indiana can do more for teachers and our students. I am not sure how the Governor can say our State is doing well, when Education in the State of Indiana ranks poorly in all areas of Education.  Teachers want what Students need.  The Governor needs to be committed to quality Education for ALL students in this state.  The shortage of qualified teachers in the State of Indiana will continue to grow if Governor Holcomb doesn’t commit to Public School Teachers and our students.  The Governor seems to find other things to do with taxpayer’s dollars other than investing in our children and funding our future.  I am disappointed and I am sure all of the teachers in the State are disappointed as well.  Educators will continue coming to the Statehouse, speaking with Legislators. The State of Indiana must do better.”


Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

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