President of Teachers Union Barred from Classroom After Union Seeks Pay Negotiations

A proposal by an Indiana district to retain teachers has sparked accusations of unfair labor practices, public anger towards school board members, and the decision to bar the teachers union president from the classroom.

In an effort to combat turnover rates of over 25% in some buildings, Richmond schools announced one-time bonuses for teachers in May. All teachers in good standing would receive supplemental payments of $525. Additional funds were allocated to mid-career teachers whose compensation had not kept up with their experience.

The Richmond Education Association argued that the plan affected compensation and should have been discussed during the fall bargaining season. It filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the district.

Following the complaint, the union claimed the district retaliated by disinviting its representatives from a back-to-school event, placing union president Kelley McDermott on leave, and threatening to cancel her teaching contract. Teachers were also allegedly instructed to inform the superintendent if they wanted to speak to school board members.

The situation in Richmond is occurring against a backdrop of diminishing collective bargaining rights for teachers in Indiana, as well as a shortage of educators in certain subjects. Indiana has seen a decrease in the number of people entering the teaching profession over the past decade, while more teachers nationwide left the profession after the 2021-22 school year.

A new state law, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Raatz, eliminated the requirement for school districts to discuss changes to working conditions with union representatives at monthly meetings. Proponents of the law argued it would reduce bureaucracy, while critics claim it has negatively impacted teacher morale.

Both the district and the union aim to retain experienced teachers, but they are currently at odds over the best approach as bargaining season officially begins.

What must school districts negotiate with teachers unions?

Under a 2011 law, Indiana teachers lost the right to collectively bargain over working conditions such as class sizes and schedules. However, they can still bargain over salaries, wages, and benefits, including pay increases, during the fall bargaining window.

Richmond’s compensation plan, which detailed one-time supplemental payments based on current salary, years of experience, and education, fell within the union’s scope of negotiation.

The union argued that implementing this plan to boost the pay of approximately 60% of teachers left less funding available for raises when bargaining began. Furthermore, the union claims the plan was approved without consultation.

The district’s board members argued that Indiana law allowed them to offer supplemental pay in order to retain teachers and reduce salary disparities without involving the Richmond Education Association.

Data indicated that Richmond teachers had to work for 13 years to earn the starting salary of a neighboring district. District representatives emphasized the importance of teacher retention for students’ academic success.

‘This will lead to educators leaving the profession’

A board meeting in September drew a large crowd of union members and supporters who expressed outrage over the district’s handling of the pay issue and McDermott’s teaching contract.

Critics argued that by keeping McDermott out of the classroom, the district was undermining its own goal of providing consistent teaching for students.

Union Vice President Jay Lee stated that talks with the district had never been so contentious in the past. The union chose to delay bargaining until after Count Day, which would determine available funding for the fall semester.

Although Richmond board president Stults could not comment on the personnel situation, she asserted that overall relations between the board, administration, and teachers were positive. She highlighted positive feedback from teachers regarding the supplemental pay and ongoing meetings between district employees and upper administration.

Jennifer Smith-Margraf from the Indiana State Teachers Association emphasized the importance of bargaining and discussion for retaining educators. The unilateral changes to pay and the new law have had a negative impact on the situation, potentially leading to more educators leaving the profession.

The future of further legislative reforms remains uncertain, but the union continues to support the right to bargaining and discussion.

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