Teachers organize pay protest at training conference for education employees

At least 60 teachers in bright red shirts confronted Indiana school administrators outside of a conference to demand higher pay and greater funding for the state’s traditional public schools. 

Though the educators standing outside the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board conference were largely muted — there were no cheers, shouts, or chants to be found —  they were highly visible, making their presence known by flanking the entrance to Noblesville’s Ivy Tech Community College and handing out fliers. 

“I hope we can get the people of [IEERB] to realize that these decisions they’re making, they’re more than just words on paper or checks on boxes,” said Brad Bennett, a teacher from Western School Corporation near Kokomo who mobilized teachers on Facebook for the protest. “It puts people’s lives at stake.” 

The Indiana Education Employment Relations Board is a neutral state agency that researches school contract negotiations, led by a board appointed by the governor and legislative leadership. While it doesn’t have direct control over salary negotiations, its staff monitors collective bargaining agreements around school salaries, wages, and benefits to ensure they comply with state law and provides mediation services if needed. 

But in many ways, participants said the demonstration was less about the board and more about continuing public action targeted at state lawmakers that started during the legislative session in the spring, which included a rally in March that saw hundreds of teachers flock to the Statehouse

“I grew up as a foster kid. One of the only things I really had was my school system,” said Allistare Lute, a 33-year-old teacher from Decatur Township, while holding a red-and-white sign listing off numbers about Indiana’s teacher pay rates and school funding. “If we’re going to turn around and fund these private institutions that they call public…but not fund our public schools, we’re taking away from our kids and our future.” 

Teachers at Tuesday’s demonstration repeatedly pointed to a report by Forbes magazine that found Indiana teacher salaries saw the least change of any state between 2002 and 2017. They also criticized the state budget lawmakers finalized this year, pointing to an analysis circulated by state Democrats that shows the state allocates a 2% funding increase for traditional public schools while providing a 10% increase for public charter schools in each of the next two years. 

But Republican policymakers touted the budget as a “tremendous success” for educators, highlighting provisions that increased teacher bonuses and a plan by Gov. Eric Holcomb to use $150 million of the state’s reserves to pay down pension liabilities among schools. Holcomb argued the one-time payment would free up more dollars at the district level and keep decisions about teacher pay in the hands of local communities.  

Still, the group also came armed with concerns about the new collective bargaining laws addressed at the conference. The event was open to all stakeholders, including teachers. 

There are several new laws that will affect negotiations this year. Sarah Cudahy, executive director of the IEERB, explained each of them at the conference’s opening session. 

The teachers assembled for the walk-in said one concerning change is a new requirement that districts hold a public meeting before formal negotiations start on Sept. 15, and another public hearing at least 72 hours before an agreement is ratified. If the parties can’t reach an agreement by Nov. 15, they enter an impasse period and face intervention from the state. 

Teachers at the protest said current bargaining rules hamper their ability to sit at a table that’s already hard to reach. Most are in the classroom once formal bargaining begins, which can limit how much time they can contribute to negotiations. 

“They need to see the faces of the people they’re working for, not just the administrators,” Randall Studt, a teacher from West Lafayette, said about the board. “I want them to see red. I want them to realize we’re watching everything they do.”