Letters and Opinion

School districts take different paths

May 22, 2010

Two Indianapolis-area school districts have taken different routes to dealing with large budget shortfalls in the wake of significant cuts to state education funding. The results speak volumes about the priorities of their local teachers’ unions.

In Perry Township, on the city’s south side, board members voted to cut 43 teachers at the end of the school year to help plug a $7 million hole in the school budget.

North of town at Hamilton Southeastern, education leaders were able to navigate a roughly $10 million budget gap without issuing a single pink slip.

So what gives? The local teachers union, that’s what.

We at the Education Action Group Foundation understand that each school system faces unique challenges, financial and otherwise, but it’s hard to deny how a union’s cooperation affects the health of a district, particularly during tough economic times.

Perry Township school officials asked its local teachers’ union to give up a recently negotiated 1-percent raise in addition to health care concessions negotiated as part of their new contract, inked shortly before the budget cuts were announced.

The union’s response? Sorry, but we’ve given all we can.

Indiana State Teachers Association spokesman Terry Troxell then blamed Gov. Mitch Daniels for the district’s budget woes. Classy.

At Hamilton Southeastern, the school board reached an early contract agreement in which teachers agreed to suspend raises, as well as the district’s 1.5-percent (of salary) contribution to their retirement health benefits. Those measures were applied to teachers and administrators alike, and may be combined with a proposed agreement that all employees help to cover an expected 10-percent increase in health insurance costs.

The union’s cooperation helped to potentially save the district about $3 million, without reducing any teacher positions.

“This … is due, in part, to association leadership focusing on putting kids first,” Superintendent Brian Smith said in a statement.

This is an example of how dedicated educators can help pull their districts from the red without jeopardizing their co-workers’ jobs. It’s our hope that Hamilton Southeastern’s educators are rewarded for their sacrifices when the state’s economy rebounds.

With both school corporations employing just over 900 teachers, Perry Township schools could have realized similar savings, had their teachers’ union been willing to bend a little more.

It’s a shame that the students and younger educators in that school system will have to bear the brunt of the budget cuts to preserve union perks for the district’s tenured teachers.

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Steve Gunn
Education Action Group Foundation
Muskegon, Mich.

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