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Teacher pay changes that riled educators and unions bite the dust

Union-affiliated teachers attended a rally for Superintendent Glenda Ritz last year. Teachers unions led the charge against Senate Bill 10.
Union-affiliated teachers attended a rally for Superintendent Glenda Ritz last year. Teachers unions led the charge against Senate Bill 10.
Scott Elliott

Teachers, led by the state’s largest unions representing them, had warned Republican leaders they were angry about a bill some felt could undermine the teacher pay system, and today lawmakers backed off that plan at the last minute.

The bill, Senate Bill 10, would have granted superintendents the power to choose where teachers could be placed on pay scales without consulting teachers unions. The goal was to give them the chance to offer more money to attract teachers in high demand, such as those that teach high level science and math, foreign language or other hard-to-fill jobs.

But unions raised alarms, saying the bill gave superintendents too much power, blocked those decisions from public view and risked a chaotic upending of the pay scale.

Tension built when a milder version of the plan died in the Senate last week. That made Senate Bill 10 the last chance to keep the proposal alive, and it was the last bill on the Indiana General Assembly’s agenda to consider before tonight’s deadline for bills to pass.

But it was never called.

Instead, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, called for the legislature to adjourn rather than take up Senate Bill 10. His wish was granted, and the Indiana House closed up shop without ever considering the bill.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said legislative leaders from both the House and Senate made the decision that the bill was “done for now.”

“Honestly there was so much misinformation out there on it, we just determined in our discussions on it this morning … that it wasn’t worth the effort to put folks through it,” Bosma said. “The governor had expressed reservations about it as well, so we didn’t have assurance that he would sign the bill.”

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said her members are happy about the unexpected result after a weeks-long battle to stop the bill. Teachers unions flooded social media with criticism of Senate Bill 10 and it’s House version, House Bill 1004. Many also contacted their legislators directly to advocate that they vote “no.”

“My gut was telling me to be really cautious,” she said.

Senate Bill 10 wasn’t even expected to get a hearing until late last week. When Senate Republican leaders killed House Bill 1004, supporters of the idea of flexibility for superintendents in hiring flocked behind the Senate’s version. Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the House bill was stopped because Republican leaders felt they had not convinced teachers of their argument that it would help, not hurt, teacher pay.

But the House’s education committee chairman, Rep. Bob Behning R-Indianapolis, tried to keep the idea going. His committee passed Senate Bill 10, which drew even louder objections from unions because it gave even wider latitude to superintendents than the House bill had. If the Senate bill had passed the House, it would have gone to Pence to be signed into law. By not voting on the bill today, the House killed the bill’s chances of becoming law.

Cook said he’s still interested in perhaps revisiting the bill’s ideas next year. As a former superintendent, he said the power to recruit teachers through extra pay would make a big difference for districts that are working to fill high-demand jobs, especially rural districts. But at this time, the bill just didn’t have enough support, he said.

“I still think it has very positive concepts,” Cook said. “If I were in the superintendency still… I think there were some tools it would’ve provided in their tool box that would’ve allowed them to put the best and brightest in their classrooms.”

Meredith said more time to talk through the proposal with lawmakers to better understand all its provisions was a good idea. But she worried that creating an avenue for private discussions about pay, or ones outside of collective bargaining, could set the profession back.

“We just really look forward to trying to find a way to talk about this issue,” she said, “with the House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, and trying to help bring the educator’s voice into the discussion.”

Some teachers expressed relief on Twitter that the bill didn’t move forward.

Christianne Beebe, a teacher at Eagle Elementary in Brownsburg, tweeted that she’s tired of the politics around education policy. She’s “thrilled it’s dead, but (it) would have happened weeks ago if they really respected teachers.”

Randy Studt, a teacher at West Lafayette High School tweeted that he was “elated,” but he still called on voters to replace lawmakers who supported the bill. Andrew Cowells, a social studies teacher at Concord Junior High School, said on Twitter that the opposition to the bill isn’t limited to one kind of teacher. As a Republican and president of his local teachers union, he tweeted that he wants to elect candidates in both parties that support educators.

“I feel grateful and relieved,” Cowells tweeted.

Ultimately, Meredith said derailing the bill felt like a significant victory after several years of Republican bills the union opposed passing anyway.

“(Union members) feel like they’ve made a difference, that somebody is finally listening to their message and their ideas,” Meredith said. “I think they’re hopeful, a little bit, that maybe legislators will take them a little more seriously and consider their opinions.”

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