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Indiana panel OKs bill limiting teacher bargaining

By Deanna Martin
Associated Press / January 27, 2011

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INDIANAPOLIS—A Republican-controlled Senate committee advanced a contentious proposal Wednesday that critics contend would strip Indiana teachers of their collective bargaining rights.

The Senate labor committee voted 7-2 along party lines for the bill, which is part of GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels' sweeping education agenda.

The bill would limit collective bargaining agreements between local districts and teachers' unions to focus on wages and wage-related benefits. Evaluation procedures, dismissal procedures and working conditions would no longer be included in contracts. The bill would also limit teacher contracts to a span of two years -- the length of the state budget cycle.

Bill supporters said teacher contracts reached through collective bargaining can include details that do little to improve academics. The Indiana Department of Education cites some examples from school districts around the state:

-- School leaders must maintain a specific classroom temperature in Crawford County Community Schools and the School City of East Chicago.

-- Teachers' lounges must be "attractive, comfortable and spacious" in the School City of East Chicago.

-- During layoffs, teachers with equal seniority break the tie by using their birth dates in Indianapolis, a blind draw in Munster and a roll of a die in East Allen County.

-- Carpet must be vacuumed using a "filtration method that filters at greater than 99 percent efficient at 0.3 micron" in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation.

-- Certain teachers with 5 years of experience are not subject to evaluation in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Teacher contracts can stand in the way of real education reforms aimed at helping students, proponents argued.

"They're not about the students," said Scott Jenkins, the governor's education policy director.

But the bill's critics -- teachers unions chief among them -- said local districts should have the power to decide for themselves what belongs in teacher contracts. They pointed out that teacher working conditions are also student learning conditions, and that contract details are there for a reason. Opponents claimed the bill goes too far, eroding the most basic tenets of collective bargaining rights.

If a school board and union are negotiating but cannot reach an agreement on a new contract, the current contract is extended and teachers work under those rules. But under the proposal, the school board can give 30 days' notice when teachers are working under "status quo" and then make changes to the contract long as the board proposed those changes during the negotiation period.

If a school board wanted to cut pay or reduce sick days, union leaders said, all it would have to do is propose the cuts during negotiations, give 30 days' notice and then adopt the changes without any union approval.

"This can scarcely be called collective bargaining," said Sally Sloan, executive director of the Indiana Federation of Teachers.

Diana Koger, a special education teacher at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, told lawmakers that the bill would mean teachers have no say because the school board could make all the decisions.

"That could be a cut in salary," she said.

Labor committee Chairman Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said the point of the status quo provision is to help school boards who remain stuck in contracts. For example, school districts that had budget cuts because of state funding reductions last year could have opted to decrease pay to all teachers in an effort to save jobs -- but because of status quo contracts, school districts couldn't change pay and ended up laying off teachers.

"We lost people because of that," Boots said.

Daniels has been pushing for limits on teacher collective bargaining rights and said in his State of the State address earlier this year that contracts "go too far when they dictate the color of the teachers' lounge, who can monitor recess, or on what days the principal is allowed to hold a staff meeting."

The proposal to limit collective bargaining is expected to clear the General Assembly, where Republicans control both the House and Senate. The bill next moves to the full Senate for consideration.