Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 31, 2012

Study finds Indiana teacher unions not as strong

Many not surprised they ranked 31st in the nation

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

Kokomo — A study released Monday by the Fordham Institute ranks Indiana’s teacher unions 31st in the nation in terms of strength.

“I’m not surprised by the ranking,” said Kim Patterson, teachers association president for Eastern Howard School Corp. “It shows that Indiana is being led by a state superintendent of public instruction who is reform-minded and change-minded.”

Officials at the Fordham Institute said state policies are making teacher unions here weaker.

While the state dedicates a large proportion of its money to K to 12 education, the laws that limit the scope of bargaining, mandate teacher employment policies and set forth charter school policies, are not aligned with traditional union interests, the report states.

“Traditionally, Indiana would be strong,” said Dara Zeehandelaar, one of the study’s co-authors. “On the traditional measures, [the unions] rank fairly high. They donate a lot to political candidates. They have high revenue and high membership.”

But 2011 was a bad year for the Indiana State Teacher’s Association, the report states.

Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill that restricted the scope of teachers’ bargaining to wages and benefits. The bill took transfers, dismissals and evaluations off the negotiating table.

Zeehandelaar said there are 21 issues teachers can typically bargain for. In Indiana, 16 of those issues are prohibited in collective bargaining.

“That is very unusual,” she said.

Patterson said none of the teachers association members were in favor of the legislative changes.

Instead of making teacher unions weaker, though, Patterson said she thinks it makes them more important.

“It forces us to work in different ways, often better ways,” she said.

Discussing issues with school administrators is now crucial to getting changes made, she said.

“If you use discussion well, you can still have a seat at the table,” she said. “You can lay around and say woe is me, or you can take action.”

Patterson is still concerned about the changes made by Daniels and Tony Bennett, state superintendent of public instruction. She said they could make the Indiana State Teachers Association less effective.

Things may not be getting better in the near future, the report states.

“With Bennett up for re-election in 2012 in a race receiving national attention, the union might not have allies in the capitol anytime soon,” the report states. “So while nearby Wisconsin has received national attention for its anti-labor stance, the wide range of education-specific policies in Indiana may actually make it a better contender for most teacher-union-unfriendly state in the nation.”