Indiana

Teacher pay and pension changes, opposed by unions, are dead for now

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Protesters, led by teachers unions, demonstrate against changes to state law last year.

A highly controversial bill that would allow superintendents to pay some teachers more than others if they’re in hard-to-fill positions is dead, Republican leaders announced today.

House Bill 1004 never got a hearing in the Senate, and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said Republican leaders decided the bill had failed to win over teachers, who were skeptical that it would help fix shortages in high-need areas such as science and foreign language without hurting teachers in more general teaching jobs.

“The contents of the bill were offered with good intentions of supporting Hoosier teachers, but the effects of the bill have been misperceived by some teachers,” Kruse said in a statement. “As the General Assembly looks for ways to address the shortage of teachers in high-demand fields such as science, math and special education, we need to find solutions that can garner broad support in the teaching community and the legislature.”

The bill, which was vehemently opposed by the state’s two major teachers unions, narrowly passed the House earlier this month 57-42.

The bill would have allowed teachers with high-demand expertise to negotiate outside of the pay scales already negotiated by unions. It also would have offered teachers a choice in the type of pension they receive.

Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the bill’s two main concepts won’t see any further support in the Senate, but the flexibility for negotiating pay for teachers with special skills might still be revived.

Senate Bill 10, which includes similar language to House Bill 1004, is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday. It would also allow district leaders to adjust salaries without union approval.

The Senate bill is even more restrictive, and disliked by union supporters, than the one in the House. Both bills would require superintendents bring a written explanation to their local school boards when they decide to set a teacher’s pay beyond what is specified by the union contract. But the Senate bill would allow that presentation to occur in a private meeting if the board chose. The dead House Bill required the discussion to be held in public.

Rep. Bob Behning, House Education Committee chairman and author of House Bill 1004, said earlier today that he’s not sure what’s going to happen with Senate Bill 10 — but if it did move forward, the pay provision likely would be amended to be identical to that in House Bill 1004. Behning could not be reached Thursday evening for comment.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with Senate Bill 10,” Behning said. “I know there’s some language that Rep. (Jeff) Thompson wants to consider, and there’s some other language that Rep. (Tony) Cook wants to consider, so there’s several other things that we’re looking to do with that.”

Next steps might be tricky. If the House Education Committee passes Senate Bill 10, it goes to the full House for a vote. If the neither the education committee nor the full House amend the bill, it could be approved and sent straight to the governor.

If the bill is changed in any way, the Senate could demand a conference committee to work out the differences between the two versions. That could raise the likelihood that the Senate bill also might die without a vote.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said that although her members have hustled over the past couple weeks to call lawmakers and use social media to voice their opposition to the idea of paying some teachers extra beyond the union pay scale, she’s not ready to celebrate until Senate Bill 10 meets a similar fate.

“We don’t know that it’s gone until it’s really gone,” Meredith said. “Until the session is really over, you just don’t know what they’re going to do.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?