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Indiana teacher pay bill advancing despite criticism

February 22, 2016

Many school district administrators and Indiana's teachers unions are arguing against a legislative proposal that would give districts the authority to negotiate higher pay with individual teachers.

The Republican-dominated state Senate rejected an attempt Monday to strip from a bill those provisions that supporters say would help school districts recruit teachers in high-demand subjects such areas as science, math and special education.

The debate comes as state officials and local school leaders have discussed potential steps to address possible teacher shortages as the number of first-time teaching licenses issued by the state Department of Education has declined by 33 percent over the past five years

Senate education committee Chairman Denis Kruse, an Auburn Republican, said school districts should have more flexibility to fill their teacher vacancies.

"We need to have our school corporations be able to respond locally to school shortages," Kruse said.

The Senate voted 30-20 against an amendment sponsored by Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, to remove the authority for individual teacher negotiations. She argued that salary matters for teachers should be part of district-wide contract negotiations with the teacher unions.

The bill, which the House approved 57-42 last month, applies both to new and current teachers, who could use the provision as leverage to obtain a pay raise or move to another job. No additional money for salaries is included in the bill.

Leaders of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union, maintain that individual deals would cause division among teachers.

Teresa Meredith, the teacher association's president, said she worries it would also lead to a disparity in pay because many male teachers are in the science and math fields most needed and could receive bonuses. But 90 percent of elementary teachers are women and those positions are not as difficult to fill.

"Teachers are very upset about it. They are concerned about where the money is going to come from," Meredith told The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne. "Every content area is arguing about what is high-need versus what is not. It's not a healthy environment for teachers."

Charles Cammack, chief operations officer for Fort Wayne Community Schools, said the proposal is cumbersome and would require more staffers in the district's personnel office to handle contracts for individual teachers. He said he didn't think it would help much in teacher recruitment.

"We haven't felt pay was the primary reason there was a scarcity of math, science and special education teachers," Cammack said. "It's more of a reflection of an overall shortage of people choosing those areas as a career."

The Senate could vote on approval for the full bill later this week.

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