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Teachers sue 3 Indiana school districts, seek raises

October 21, 2011

Teachers have filed separate lawsuits against three Indiana school districts, alleging that they haven't been given pay raises they are entitled to under contracts that expired at the end of the last school year.

The dispute stems from changes by the Legislature earlier limiting collective bargaining agreements between local districts and teachers' unions. The school districts contend the teachers aren't entitled to the raises under the new law. Eric Hylton, an attorney for the Indiana State Teachers Association who filed the lawsuits on behalf of the teachers, contends the teachers' contracts expired before the new law took effect, so they are entitled to the raises.

The lawsuits were filed last month against the Huntington County Community School Corp., about 35 miles southeast of Fort Wayne; the Noblesville Schools Board, about 20 miles northeast of Indianapolis; and the Madison Consolidated Schools Board, about 50 miles northeast of Louisville. Hylton said he isn't aware of any other possible similar lawsuits.

The school districts have not yet filed their responses.

Huntington schools Superintendent Tracey Shafer said the new law prohibits a district from entering into a contract that results in a general fund deficit, which is what the district would be doing if it paid the increases.

"It specifically prohibits the payment of automatic raises based on seniority," Shafer said. "We cannot legally do that."

He said the district has been facing declining revenue and enrollment in recent years and last year cut $2 million and closed two schools. He said it is unfortunate the district will have to spend money to defend the lawsuit that would have otherwise been available to pay teachers.

Messages seeking comment were left Friday by The Associated Press at the offices of David Day, the attorney for the Noblesville schools, and Madison schools Superintendent Thomas Patterson.

Hylton contends in the lawsuit that the expired contracts gives teachers yearly salary increases for each additional year they teach up to and including their 19th year of teaching.

"Our position is, at the beginning of the school year the teachers should have received their increment as stated in the expired collective bargaining agreement. That's the way it's always been done in the past under the old law," Hylton said.

The new contracts the teachers eventually have with the school districts will have a different salary structure, Hylton said.

"But our position is that until that new collective bargaining agreement is agreed to by the parties, the teachers are required to be provided that step increment," he said.

Hylton is seeking class-action status, meaning that although only several teachers are named in the lawsuits, the legal cases would cover most teachers in those districts if granted.

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