Upstart teachers group abandons plans to challenge the IPS union

The union representing Indianapolis Public Schools teachers notched a quiet victory this week when an upstart group abandoned plans to challenge them.

The Indianapolis Teachers Society did not file a petition to decertify and replace the union, as the group had previously planned. The society, which already led one aborted effort to replace the union, will continue to operate as a teacher support organization, a leader said. The group would have another opportunity to challenge but it would likely be in more than a year.

The society launched a push to replace the Indianapolis Education Association earlier this year after the former president was revealed in November to have mismanaged money from the union. Rhondalyn Cornett, who resigned after she was confronted by state union officials, pleaded guilty last month to embezzling more than $100,000, and she faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Read more: Rocked by scandal, a weakened Indianapolis Public Schools teachers union faces an uncertain future

The union has faced opposition in recent months from a small but vocal group of teachers, including former union loyalists. Ultimately, however, the existing union proved more powerful and resilient than its challengers anticipated.

The society decided that waging a battle against the IEA, which is backed by the Indiana State Teachers Association, would cost too much money, said teacher Lora Elliott, who is one of the society founders.

“Financially, it was a nightmare,” Elliott said. “ISTA was going to drive us into bankruptcy.”

The society filed a petition with the state in February to replace the IEA, but withdrew it about a month later because of a technical error in describing which teachers it hoped to represent, according to co-founder LaMeca Perkins-Knight. At the time, the group planned to file another petition during the July window, which is now closed. The process cost society members about $6,000 in attorneys’ fees, Elliott said.

Ronald Swann, president of the IEA, did not respond to a request for comment. When the society withdrew its initial petition in March, Swann told Chalkbeat in a statement that the withdrawal of the petition showed the society did not have support from educators. “The grass seed did not germinate,” wrote Swann, a high school science teacher.

“The IEA’s membership continues to grow as we continue our commitment to the professional staff and students of the Indianapolis Public Schools,” Swann wrote.

The society will have to wait until at least January 2020 to file another challenge. It could take longer, however, since a petition must be filed in the year that the contract is set to expire, and IEA will soon begin negotiating a new contract with the district that could extend two years.

Perkins-Knight, a prior leader in IEA and one of the founders of the society, told the Indianapolis Public Schools board last month that she is leaving the district, though she will remain active in the society.

The group would also need to win support from significantly more teachers to succeed. If the society had petitioned for an election over the union, it would have needed to show support from 20% of educators who are covered by the district contract, about 380 teachers.

Elliott said the society has fewer than 10 active members, although more people were supportive of their challenge.