Red-clad public school teachers lined Clinton Street in front of the Allen County Courthouse on Tuesday, waving signs and imploring passing motorists to honk their horns. Many drivers obliged.
Other teachers gathered outside buildings in the Southwest Allen County Schools district before the start of classes to show solidarity with thousands of colleagues from around Indiana who converged on the Statehouse in Indianapolis.
At different times and places, Fort Wayne educators recited the demands that teachers had taken to state lawmakers. They want increased funding for traditional public education, higher pay for teachers, an end to school punishments resulting from flawed standardized testing, the repeal of unpaid training requirements for teaching license renewals and the elimination of high school ratings based on students' post-graduation paths.
“I think we reached a tipping point in this state with educators to where they're just tired of dealing with the same old rhetoric,” said Ryan Henly, president of the Southwest Allen County Teachers Association.
“We keep hearing from legislators that they're doing things (for schools). They are doing more talk than they are doing action. They need to start acting upon the things they are saying.”
Legislators “can continue saying they put more money into education, but they're not doing enough,” Henly said. He pointed out that the percentage of funding increase the General Assembly approved this year for traditional public schools was far smaller than the rates of increase awarded to charter schools and vouchers used at private schools.
Henly attended morning rallies outside Homestead High School and Covington Elementary School, where he teaches fifth grade. Southwest Allen Superintendent Phil Downs was at both rallies.
Teachers and administrators are “on the same page,” Henly said in an interview at Covington Elementary. “We're in this together. This is not just a teacher issue. It's a whole public education issue.”
Downs said the voices of public school administrators and teachers “have been sidelined and marginalized over the last 10 years” at the Statehouse. “And I just don't think that's right, and I don't think it's good for girls and boys.”
The dozens of people who briefly chanted “Red for Ed” at Covington Elementary included parents of students.
“We are here to support our teachers. I don't think they're being valued properly. I think we need to encourage more support. ... I think the community needs to be more involved. That is why I'm here,” said Elena Cornell, who has children in elementary and middle schools.
Southwest Allen and Northwest Allen county schools remained in session Tuesday. Fort Wayne Community Schools and East Allen Community Schools had called off classes because so many of their teachers planned to be at the Statehouse.
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church offered free child care in response to school cancellations. Deb Miteff, manager of staff and administration at Good Shepherd, said all but one of the 27 children who were registered for the service had arrived.
“One mom told me she was really in a bind and her employer told her about (our child care),” Miteff said.
Even with school in session, nearly 60 of Southwest Allen's 470 teachers went to Indianapolis. Downs said he expected “no problems” with classes.
“Fortunately, we were able to get subs for everybody,” Downs said about the absent teachers.
Ten or fewer teachers at Northwest Allen traveled to the Statehouse, said Steve Driver, president of the Northwest Allen County Educators Association. He and Northwest Allen spokeswoman Lizette Downey said the district expressed its support from afar.
“The corporation and teachers encouraged employees to wear shirts that were provided that said 'I Love Public Education' or to wear red,” Driver said in an email.
The Fort Wayne Education Association organized the downtown Red for Ed rally. Participants held signs with such messages as “Support Public Education,” “Fund Our Schools” and “Hold Our Legislators Accountable.”
Lawmakers “may say one thing and vote a different way when it comes to passing legislation” affecting schools, Lisa Hamblin, a third-grade teacher at Bloomingdale Elementary, said in an interview along Clinton Street.
Hamblin said the Red for Ed rallies were only a start.
“We are hoping this is just the beginning of a very long-term awareness of what's going on with education and public schools. ... We're in the early talks of continuing plans to bring awareness after today so that this isn't just a one-day event,” she said.
Kara Squires, a history and sociology teacher at Homestead High School, had said much the same thing hours earlier at a rally outside the school.
“Know that today is just the beginning. Many of our administrators have already been fighting the fight,” Squires told dozens of people gathered in the morning darkness before the start of the school day.
“I hope you continue after today with letters and educating ourselves on what we can do to make a change,” she instructed.
Jim Chapman of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.