Indiana House OKs bill limiting teacher contracts

The Indiana House on Friday approved a bill prohibiting contracts between school districts and teachers unions from including anything other than wages and wage-related benefits.

The Republican-controlled House voted 52-40 largely along party lines in favor of the bill, which is part of GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels' aggressive education agenda.

The proposal would put the limits on contract agreements between local districts and unions representing teachers and any other school employees, such as bus drivers, custodians and nurses, starting in July.

Supporters say teacher contracts shouldn't include details that do little to improve academics, such as requiring comfortable teachers' lounges.

Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the collective bargaining limits were aimed at giving school administrators and school boards the flexibility to make decisions on running the districts without being bound by contract clauses that sometimes have been around for decades.

"We're allowing a coach to come in and do what we want — take the team across the finish line — without tying their arms around their back," said Behning, who is chairman of the House Education Committee. "What this bill does is provide the opportunity for educational leaders to lead."

Leaders of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union, have argued against the bargaining restrictions, saying that the contracts are negotiated locally and that school district leaders must agree to any provisions.

More than 1,000 teachers attended a Statehouse rally in February denouncing the bargaining limits, along with Republican-backed proposals to tie teacher salaries with student performance and create vouchers that would direct taxpayer money to private schools.

Democrats argued during Friday's debate that the bill would give too much control to school administrators over issues such as the school calendar, class sizes, hiring and evaluation procedures.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said he believed the bill was aimed at limiting the influence of the teachers unions and showed a lack of respect for teachers.

"Their work environment is the learning environment of our children, our grandchildren, our nieces, our nephews," he said.

Six Republican House members joined all Democrats present in voting against the bill.

The Senate already has approved a similar version of the bill, but agreement on a single version must still be reached before it goes to the governor.

The House-passed proposal would allow school districts to agree on new teacher union contracts with provisions beyond wages and benefits until July 1. Those new contracts wouldn't be allowed to extend beyond June 2013.

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