Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 26, 2011

Bargaining rights for teachers in danger

Some say they help the students, others say it’s all about money.

By Danielle Rush
Tribune staff writer

— The Indiana Senate recently approved a bill to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights, despite protests from teachers and the Indiana State Teachers Association.

The Senate bill limits collective bargaining agreements between local school districts and teachers’ associations to wages and wage-related benefits.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said his goal is to “get away from clauses inserted into contracts in exchange for concessions when there was no money.”

He said over time those concessions have restricted school corporations’ ability “to respond to the needs of children,” because of “adult-focused provisions that sometimes dominate them.”

Taylor Superintendent John Magers knows about those concessions, as his teachers’ contract sets maximum class sizes. Once the cap is reached, the corporation must hire another teacher at that grade level.

“If you don’t have money to pay an additional teacher, that’s a problem,” he said.

Magers said, though, that teachers’ voices need to be heard.

“That’s not to say you don’t collaborate with teachers to create a better system. There needs to be some deregulation across the state when it comes to how contracts look,” he said.

Taylor teacher David Gregory acknowledged there had been difficult negotiations between the Taylor Teachers Association and the corporation in the past, but “those days have passed. I think we’ve all matured.”

He said the Taylor teachers agreed to concessions during the 2006-07 school year, when the corporation applied for an emergency excessive tax levy.

“The only reason it was approved was because the association and the board agreed to modify the master agreement,” he said.

He said the association also agreed to modify the contract in 2010, when the state cut $300 million from education funding.

“Our union members, who live in the community, we’re working with the local school board to come up with solutions to problems as they present themselves,” he said.

Northwestern Superintendent Ryan Snoddy said there are some positives and negatives to collective bargaining. He said even without bargaining working conditions into a contract, he would want to provide the best conditions possible.

Northwestern High School teacher Dan Robinson said the teachers’ working conditions are also the students’ learning conditions, so it is not adult-focused to bargain their working conditions.

“Any parent would say if the classroom is 50 degrees, the students aren’t going to learn. If the classroom in the summer is 100 degrees, the students aren’t going to learn. Common sense says the working situation in the building creates the learning atmosphere, and the atmosphere is important. We have great kids, and we have a great learning environment,” which he said was created through bargaining.

Robinson noted that Gov. Mitch Daniels mentioned contracts that specify what color the teachers’ lounge is painted, and said that kind of contract is an anomaly.

He was not surprised by the move to take away collective bargaining rights from teachers, he said, because Daniels did the same thing to state workers early in his first term.

“This is about money,” Robinson said. “The largest percentage of the state budget is for education. If we can’t bargain effectively, he can control that money effectively.”

Kokomo Superintendent Jeff Hauswald said while he thinks there should be a more clear definition of working conditions, and a balance between labor and management so changes can be made, “I think this will best be accomplished through open dialogue and work at the local level. I am proud of the good working relationship between Kokomo-Center Schools leadership and the Kokomo Teachers Association leadership.”

• Danielle Rush is the Kokomo Tribune education reporter. She can be reached at 765-454-8585 or danielle.rush@kokomotribune.com.