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A competing group moves to decertify and replace the embattled IPS teachers union

LaMeca Perkins-Knight is one of two Indianapolis Public Schools teachers leading a campaign to replace the local teachers union.
LaMeca Perkins-Knight is one of two Indianapolis Public Schools teachers leading a campaign to replace the local teachers union.
Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat

A group of Indianapolis Public Schools teachers is petitioning the state to replace the existing union — a move that could result in a new union or no representation at all for teachers in the state’s largest district.

The Indianapolis Teachers Society filed a petition last week with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board to decertify and replace the Indianapolis Education Association, the long-standing union representing teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools.

The challenge is the latest setback for the troubled union, which has endured months of turmoil. It is the first step in a process that could eventually trigger an election where teachers vote on whether to keep the existing union, select the new group, or forgo union representation altogether.

Indianapolis Education Association president Ronald Swann said in a statement that the union has the “experience and resources to best represent IPS teachers.”

“Teachers in IPS want to keep moving forward, united and will not be deterred by disgruntled agitators who have aligned themselves with anti-union forces,” Swann added.

The movement to replace the Indianapolis Education Association is being led by LaMeca Perkins-Knight and Lora Elliott, two teachers who were former loyalists of the union they are now challenging. The pair have been increasingly frustrated by the local union’s management.

Perkins-Knight described the assertion that the effort was aligned with anti-union forces as “weird.” The group is not getting financial support from any “big money” and it is operating on a shoestring, she said. “We’re grassroots.”

The current union is insular and solely focused on negotiating teachers’ pay and benefits, Perkins-Knight said. The aim of the challenge is to create a union that incorporates voices from a broader group of Indianapolis Public Schools teachers and supports them with training and other efforts that help them to become better educators. Ultimately, she believes, a stronger union could help the whole district.

“If we can support the teacher and keep the teacher in IPS, then the kids of IPS are better off,” she said.

The move to oust the teachers union has precedent. After years of conflict over contracts with the district, the teachers union in Carmel Clay Schools was challenged by an upstart group representing teachers. In an election held in 2017, the new union won more than 60 percent of the vote.

It’s not clear how many teachers support the petition to replace the union because the Indianapolis Teachers Society has not filed signatures from teachers who support the challenge and Perkins-Knight could not provide an estimate. State law requires the group to show that 20 percent of educators who are covered by the district contract support the newly formed association. That would be about 380 teachers.

The bargaining unit represents just under 1,900 teachers, according to state data. That includes educators who are not union members but are covered by the contract negotiated by the union. As of last fall, about 800 teachers were dues-paying members of the Indianapolis Education Association, according to a draft budget for the existing union shared with Chalkbeat by Perkins-Knight.

The Indianapolis Education Association and Indianapolis Public Schools may file responses to the petition within 30 days of receiving notice from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board. A spokeswoman for Indianapolis Public Schools said Tuesday the district had no position on the petition.

Critics of the weakened union say that it has not done enough to engage teachers in recent years. Just 3.9 percent of members voted in a recent union election. The number of teachers the Indianapolis Education Association represents has been rapidly shrinking as the district has handed schools to outside operators who employ teachers who are not represented by the union. And in November, the union’s president, Rhondalyn Cornett, resigned amid allegations that she had mishandled $100,000 in union funds over several years.

The Indianapolis Education Association has had some recent victories: It negotiated a significant pay raise for teachers after voters supported a measure to boost school funding, and two union-backed school board candidates defeated incumbent board members.

The Indianapolis Education Association is part of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and the National Education Association. If the Indianapolis Teachers Society prevails, the new union may not be associated with a state or national teachers union. That could save teachers money because they would not have to pay membership dues to state and national unions. But the local union would no longer have the backing of those larger groups.

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