Zombie teacher-pay bill rises from the dead

Somebody really wants the Indiana legislature to pass a law that will let school superintendents give raises to favored teachers outside the bounds of union-negotiated contracts. Somebody with clout. Otherwise the supplemental-pay measure would have died last week when the state Senate, responding to overwhelming opposition from teachers and their supporters, refused to pass it.

But it didn’t. House leaders kept the idea alive Monday when they breathed new life into Senate Bill 10, which lawmakers had previously said wasn’t going to become law.

The controversial Republican-sponsored legislation lives again.

Both chambers had approved versions of the same bill – House Bill 1004 and Senate Bill 10 – which would, among other things, let superintendents award higher salaries to certain teachers. The votes were close: 57-42 in the House and 26-24 in the Senate (where Republicans have a 39-11 majority).

The extra-pay language in the Senate bill is actually worse, in the eyes of teachers’ unions, which strongly oppose both. It would let superintendents award higher pay “to attract or retain a teacher as needed” while the House bill would allow extra pay only to hire for a position “that is difficult to fill.”

Also, the House bill would require the superintendent to present justification for additional pay to the school board in a public meeting. The Senate bill would let that happen behind closed doors.

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Dispute may be brewing over when Indiana schools must implement new evaluations, merit pay

The debate over whether to enact Senate Enrolled Act 1, Indiana’s new teacher-evaluation and merit-pay law, ended in late April when Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the legislation. But the debate over how and when the law will be implemented is still to come.

One likely point of contention: When will the provisions kick in for school districts that approved valid, long-term teacher contracts before SEA 1 took effect?

The Monroe County Community school board, for example, approved a four-year contract with its teachers’ union in early April. The contract provides a 1-percent pay increase for teachers in 2011-12 and specifies that salary negotiations may be “reopened” in subsequent years.

It’s generally agreed that the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from nullifying valid contracts. So the provisions of SEA 1 that clash with existing contracts – typically, provisions that specify how teachers are evaluated and how their raises are determined — won’t come into play until the existing contracts expire.

But when do the contracts expire? According to the Indiana Department of Education, if a school district and union “reopen” their contract to negotiate money matters, the old contract is finished. A change in pay or benefits makes for a brand new contract – and the district must then comply with SEA 1.

The DOE spells out its position in an FAQ: See Question 2.

But Lisa Tanselle, a staff attorney with the Indiana School Boards Association, says school law experts don’t all agree with the department’s position. Continue reading

Reformist unions – who would have guessed?

Teachers’ unions seem to be embracing educational reform almost everywhere you look these days. Maybe they’re trying to improve their image in the face of the Waiting for “Superman” movie. Maybe they’re responding to pressure from the Obama administration.

Or maybe progressive unionism was out there all along, but we just weren’t looking.

Let’s start with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Last week, he met in Tampa, Fla., with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Dennis van Roekel to announce plans for a national education reform conference on labor-management collaboration.

“In dozens of districts around the country — from Tampa to Pittsburgh to Denver — union leaders and administrators are moving beyond the battles of the past and finding new ways to work together to focus on student success,” Secretary Duncan said. He cited eight examples, Continue reading