Indiana

ISTA, Indiana settle lawsuit for $14 million

LawsonISTA
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson announces the ISTA settlement. (Scott Elliott)

A four-year legal and financial struggle that has saddled Indiana’s largest teachers union may be coming to an end, but not without a heavy cost.

Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced today a $14 million settlement has been finalized between the state and the Indiana State Teachers Association. The deal settles the state’s lawsuit charging ISTA defrauded its members by mishandling funds in an insurance fund. The union admitted no guilt as part of the deal.

The state originally sued for $27 million, but settled for roughly 50 cents on the dollar. Lawson said the suit cost the state $1.5 million in public dollars and the settlement came because: “We knew they were willing to spare no expense on endless litigation.”

In a statement ISTA said all of the settlement money comes from its own lawsuits in the case, and that no member dues will be used to pay the state. ISTA officials blasted Lawson, saying she played politics for criticizing ISTA during the press conference.

“It is important to note that, contrary to what the secretary of state’s press release might suggest, there never was any allegation in the lawsuit that any funds received from school districts had been used by ISTA or NEA for their own benefit,” said Teresa Meredith, ISTA president, said in the statement.

The state sued ISTA, which is affiliated with the National Education Association, after an insurance trust it managed went bust in 2009.

The fund’s failure left ISTA with $57 million in liabilities ballooned by a combination of poor investments and underfunding of a disability plan offered to its educator members across Indiana.

That debt is still being paid off and will be for another 14 years.

ISTA’s annual revenue is about equal to $27 million and it reported a deficit of more than $4 million in its most recent annual financial report.

Lawson, calling the trust a “Ponzi scheme,” said savings that was supposed to be set aside each year in investments to fund future health care costs was instead co-mingled with other ISTA funds and school districts were sent statements that misled them about their account balances.

“ISTA took money from one fund to pay claims and cover deficiencies of another, then issued falsified statements to clients to create the illusion of funds,” Lawson said.

The trust’s failure had other huge consequences for ISTA and how it is managed. It sued its former executive director, charging mismanagement, and NEA stepped in to run the state affiliate, transferring ownership of its office building across form the Indiana Statehouse to the national union.

Indiana sued ISTA and NEA in federal court on behalf of those who bought insurance through the trust in 27 school districts, charging ISTA was guilty of fraud, and breach of contract. Today’s settlement resolves that case. ISTA has 10 days to deliver the money to Lawson.

Lawson said the districts have wide latitude for how to use the money, including for defraying health care costs for employees or even pay raises.

Two Indianapolis-area districts will receive a portion of the settlement: Washington Township ($978,000) and Center Grove ($597,000).

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.