Fort Wayne Area Teachers Split From ISTA

The Education Action Group has been doing some solid reporting in recent months on its Hoosier Report Card dedicated, in its own words, to "grading education reform in Indiana." A recent entry on the troubles of the Indiana State Teachers Association:

We’ve heard from many Hoosier educators who dislike the Indiana State Teachers Association’s collective bargaining and political tactics. We’ve written about how the ISTA has granted substantial raises to its top officials as its membership numbers have slid and school districts struggled to meet the union’s financial demands.

In Northwest Allen County Schools, those frustrations with the ISTA came to a boil last week when educators voted overwhelmingly to disassociate themselves from the statewide union. Northwest Allen County Education Association President Alan Bodenstein told NewsChannel 15 that local union leadership had been considering a split with the ISTA for about a year. About 150 of the district’s 350 teachers are represented by the NACEA, which was affiliated with the ISTA and the National Education Association.

NACEA members voted 111-17 Thursday to break ties with the ISTA and become an independent bargaining unit for several reasons, including “cost, dwindling membership and differences over tactics and perceived effectiveness,” the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports.

“The financial piece of it, there’s always the political part of it, but I think for me, the biggest part was our membership was starting to dwindle and we needed to figure out a way to build a stronger local,” Bodenstein told NewsChannel 15. “If our numbers go up locally our administration will have to listen a little bit harder to what we’re saying.”

The split is an interesting development at a time when the ISTA is pulling out all stops to recruit more members. The union is struggling to justify its relevance with recent collective bargaining changes that now limit union influence in schools.

NACEA educators apparently believe that they will attract more members if they disassociate themselves from the ISTA and NEA, a clear sign that the union’s rhetoric is wearing thin with some teachers.

Ultimately, the move will give the district’s teachers a greater say in school operations and teacher compensation, because the local union will not be forced to heed the selfish desires of ISTA bosses. The NACEA can now ensure that educators won’t lose their jobs and student programs won’t suffer to fund unnecessary union perks for older employees, as has been the practice in most ISTA affiliated schools.

With the help of a dozen other Indiana districts that have dropped the ISTA, we suspect that the NACEA will survive, or even flourish, now that it has made the split. Local educators who resented the union’s bullying tactics and unrealistic demands can now express their views without ridicule from ISTA bosses, and the NACEA will finally be free to make student learning the district’s top priority.

Kudos to Hoosier Educator of the Year

“Fourth grade, here I come!” I thought as I left my third-grade classroom one last time. I didn’t know it yet that June afternoon in 1986, but no other teacher would ever make as meaningful an impression on me as the one I was leaving behind.

Our projects were fun and challenging, and although we respected her as the teacher and as the adult in the classroom, her playful and compassionate nature always made us feel like she was “one of us.”

Recently, I spoke with another educator who is playing an important role in her students’ lives. Alene Smith – a civics, law and social studies teacher at Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy – is helping sophomores learn about careers in the legal profession through job shadowing, internships and a variety of classroom activities through the national Street Law program.

When I spoke with Smith for a BizVoice® story about the program, I could hear the pride in her voice as she described the mutual admiration between attorneys and students, and I heard the passion as she praised the initiative’s educational value.

Recently, the Indiana State Teachers Association recognized Smith with the 2011 Horace Mann Hoosier Educator of the Year award.

No Time for Games in Education Policies

A vehicle bill in the Indiana General Assembly is one that contains no text, but is available to be amended at a later time. HB 1367 fits in that category this time around, and the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) hopes to drive its suggested school budget cuts through the House Education Committee (via 1367) on Monday.

The ISTA plan: gut the progress made last year (scholarship tax credit and virtual charter school pilot programs), eliminate some testing (really ?), spend rainy day funds and any reserves above 8%, and allow more money to be transferred from capital funds to general operating funds.

The Indiana Chamber, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and about any other group interested in education policy are prepared to oppose this effort. IDOE previously released a Citizens’ Checklist that prioritizes items that should be considered before any cuts are made that affect classroom instruction and learning. And while the ISTA does not propose the feared mass teacher layoff, putting the clamps on the much-needed scholarship and voucher school initiatives would be detrimental to students and their learning opportunities.

The checklist emphasizes that school districts look at some of the same changes many businesses have been forced to implement during the economic downturn. These include freezing pay (or rolling back previous increases) and closely reviewing health plans (with inclusion in the state program an option that would save money for many). These two items alone could account for much of the projected $300 million cut in education funds.

At the same time that judiciously saving money should be the top priority, a questionable $200 million mandate on school counselors passed the House committee last week. While the Chamber said "no, you have to be kidding," or something a little more professional, it was the only one to speak up and the measure somehow had the support of ISTA and associations representing superintendents, school boards and counselors.

Finally, education leaders and those same groups are also saying that if you want us to teach young people to read (SB 258), we’re going to need more money. Since when is reading NOT included in current education efforts.

Let’s hope a little common sense begins to prevail — starting today.