Judge blocks Indiana-mandated contracts for teachers

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A judge on Wednesday blocked the Indiana Department of Education from using new teacher contract forms that would have allowed school districts to change the hours or days that teachers work without adjusting their pay.

The Indiana State Teachers Association union requested the preliminary injunction, arguing that the forms violated state law and the rights of teachers. Marion County Superior Court Judge Patrick McCarty agreed to block the state from requiring districts to use the forms during the 2011-2012 school year.

The forms were drafted by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett as part of sweeping education changes passed by the General Assembly this year.

"Contrary to IDOE's argument, nothing in Indiana law or the newly enacted statutes gives Dr. Bennett or IDOE the authority to contravene general contract principles and laws that have been established and govern in Indiana," McCarty wrote in his ruling.

McCarty said the contract form drafted by Bennett is "unconscionable" because it gives school corporations the authority to unilaterally modify the number of days and hours that a teacher must work, but it does not require them to pay for the additional labor.

Bennett said he disagreed but would abide by the judge's decision.

"Already, we are working on a new contract for Indiana's schools, and we are committed to providing our school leaders what they were promised in this law — the flexibility they need to innovate and prepare all students for success," Bennett said in a prepared statement.

The Indiana State Teachers Association issued a statement saying it was willing to sit down with Department of Education officials "to collaborate on the creation of a teacher's contract form that follows both the spirit and intent of Indiana law." ISTA represents about 45,000 teachers across the state on contract issues.

The injunction requires Bennett to notify all Indiana school corporations not to use the new regular teacher's contract form until further orders are issued from the court. It also requires Bennett to forward a copy of the injunction order to all districts as well.

Wednesday's decision provided some consolation for ISTA after another Marion County judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction Monday in a separate case that would have stopped a broad new school voucher law that provides scholarships for students to attend private schools.

That case also was triggered by the Legislature's education overhaul. ISTA backs a group of teachers and clergy challenging the law in that case.

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