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Union backers say bill could wreck Indiana’s teacher pay system

Teachers in high-demand jobs — like science, math or foreign language — would be free to try to negotiate better pay even beyond what their school’s union scales allow under a bill the Indiana House will consider next week.

That was a surprise to some during discussion in the House Ways & Means Committee today: that the change would apply to people who want to stay in their jobs, not just applicants from outside a school.

That could upend the delicate balance of Indiana’s system for paying teachers, critics said.

The bill, House Bill 1004, is designed to allow districts to decide where teachers up for hard-to-fill positions would fall on the district’s pay scale without going through their unions. But it doesn’t just apply to new teachers who are looking to take a job — teachers already in hard-to-fill jobs could demand a pay raise if their schools want them to stay, the bill’s author Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, told the committee during debate today.

“Superintendents testified about the fact that we have shortage areas, especially in your urban and rural areas,” Behning said. “The goal is to do what we can to provide flexibility and opportunities for our school districts and our schools.”

The bill would also let teachers with licenses from other states teach in Indiana if they have bachelor’s degrees in the subject area they want to teach and a college GPA of 3.0 or higher. Transferring teachers would also have to pass subject tests that are required for Indiana’s teacher licenses, but they wouldn’t have to pass other required exams on teaching theory or undergo CPR and suicide prevention training.

Licensing more out-of-state teachers could increase administrative costs for districts to check out-of-state teachers credentials, according an evaluation of the bill’s fiscal impact. But it would depend heavily on the individual actions of each district and whether they hire more out-of-state teachers or not. A district wouldn’t be allowed to have more than 10 percent of its teachers with out-of-state licenses.

Salaries could also increase if districts choose to hire teachers in hard-to-fill positions and pay them more. The bill offered no details of what those projected costs might be.

But like earlier this week when the bill went before the House Education Committee, the Indiana State Teachers Association said the bill would not only take away negotiating power from unions, it would let district leaders favor some teachers at the expense of others.

“(The bill has) been couched in the framework of alleviating the teacher shortage, when in fact, the two biggest components that are left in this bill we believe will exacerbate the teacher shortage,” said Gail Zeheralis, a lobbyist with ISTA, the state’s largest teachers union. “That unilateral authority will come, and then the leftovers get put on the bargaining table for everybody else.”

Paying some teachers more than others while still attempting to fulfill existing salary contracts would mean districts would need more money, said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. Otherwise the district’s other teachers would get less.

“It’s just economics,” Delaney said.

Behning said schools have historically had the ability to pay some teachers more than others within collective bargaining agreements. Indiana should trust its superintendents to make good choices for their schools, he said.

“Superintendents are part of our educational leadership, they are responsible, they have to collaborate with leaders,” Behning said. “I can’t imagine they are going to create ill will, but they’re going to be able to have this tool to find those more difficult positions.”

The bill’s intent, Behning said, was to give districts more control to ease hiring problems that some schools have seen when trying to find qualified teacher candidates. But Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, who is superintendent of Crothersville schools, said the bill would do the exact opposite by discouraging teachers from wanting to work in Indiana.

“This is bad public policy,” Goodin said. “As a superintendent, I’m telling you this … is not the right direction to go in if we want teachers to come into the profession.”

The committee also approved House Bill 1395, which passed earlier this week. The amended bill now requires the Indiana State Board of Education to decide whether to mandate the Indiana Department of Education to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test. The bill also creates committees to study the future of Indiana’s testing program and A-F accountability system. If passed, the bill also “repeals ISTEP as we know it,” Behning said, by July 1, 2017.

The 14-8 vote was split along party lines, with Democrat members opposed to continuing to fund efforts associated with “a test that no one believes in,” Delaney said. Behning said the rescore is important for next year’s new A-F grade model, which significantly factors in student test score growth from the prior year.

Although this year’s ISTEP test experienced a series of glitches, and scoring and design problems, Behning said the test itself was valid, but the administration of it by the education department and test company was flawed.

An independent validity study conducted by the state board of education found no “substantial” problems with the test that would “fundamentally undermine” scores, said Cynthia Roach, the board’s testing director.

“They did find issues that need to be addressed,” Roach said at Tuesday’s state board meeting. “But the results … were determined to be valid.”

Both bills are next headed to the full House.