INDIANAPOLIS – In Fort Wayne Community Schools, at least one telephone must be available for teacher use on each floor of a multilevel building.
In East Allen County Schools, derogatory materials in a teachers record must be removed after three years if the behavior has not reoccurred.
And in Southwest Allen County Schools, the show choir director cannot be laid off during a reduction in force.
Those are among the unusual provisions found in teacher contracts locally.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is using such provisions to argue that collective bargaining laws should be changed.
We must free our school leaders from all the handcuffs that reduce their ability to meet the higher expectations we now have for student achievement, he said in his State of the State address last month.
But teachers and union officials say the examples are outliers that dont justify jettisoning an otherwise good system that has been in place for decades.
This is going to sound horrible, but it seems like the two bad guys right now are terrorists and teachers, and I hate that feeling, SACS union President John Baker said. Im a conservative Republican, which makes me odd since Im in the union serving as president. I can see both sides of the argument. There are always some bad apples, but overall, collective bargaining has brought a lot of great programs to the state.
Baker said every contract provision comes from a local situation that was necessary at the time it was included. But he and others concede once a provision is in a contract it is nearly impossible to get out.
Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for FWCS, compared the provisions to antiquated laws found among local and state statutes.
I do think the scope of negotiations is a bit broader than it should be, East Allen Superintendent Karyle Green said. When you are restricted on when you can hold a meeting or how many minutes it can be, I dont think it serves the interests of the children.
Most teachers go above and beyond the scope, but there are those who live by the letter of the contract and do nothing more.
Senate Bill 575 – which is being pushed by the Daniels administration and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett – would prohibit working conditions from being subject to collective bargaining.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, an author on the legislation, said the seemingly odd provisions are symptomatic of the fact that were not focusing on the basic elements of what we should be – wages and benefits.
But his bill goes further than that.
In Indiana, teachers are not allowed to strike. Instead they have a provision that keeps current contract provisions in place after a contract expires. Some administrators say the provision doesnt encourage teachers to bargain in good faith because they know that, at worst, the just-expired contract will remain in force.
Kenley said his bill turns the system around so the employer – the school district – has the leverage.
His bill says the school district can invoke the status quo or, with 30 days notice, alter the contract unilaterally, such as changing health insurance or cutting pay.
Im a little surprised at how dramatic these changes could be, said Nathan Burroughs, a research associate at Michigan State University who has studied collective bargaining and schools..
He said the changes being pushed in Indiana would undercut collective bargaining, but hes skeptical they will make a difference in the classroom.
Kenley said because of concerns about the 180-degree shift in law, he will add an amendment to the bill this week requiring school districts to bargain in good faith. If teachers believe they dont, they can call for a mediator.
Daniels said he supports the collective bargaining changes being proposed.
This is something school superintendents have for a long time felt was very, very unfair to them, he said. It sets it on exactly the same footing that exists everywhere else in the world of collective bargaining, as far as I know, private and public sector, so I think its appropriate.
The Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents testified in support of the legislation, but individual administrators are walking a tightrope to keep a good working relationship with local unions.
Stockman said at this point the district isnt taking a position on the bill and hopes to continue to have a positive relationship with its teachers.
Southwest Allen Superintendent Steve Yager said he is in favor of being able to opt out of status quo.
Ive been involved in negotiations with stall tactics, and its not whats good for students, he said. The pendulum tends to swing back and forth over the years. As it swings this direction, I would hope there would be continued communication between the sides.