Whistleblower calls for new IPS union election after scandal

The whistleblower whose tip led state teachers union officials to uncover the mishandling of more than $100,000 is asking for a new election for leaders of the Indianapolis Public Schools union.

In an email to state teachers union officials Saturday, Lora Elliott called for a new election for leadership in the wake of the resignation of the Indianapolis Public Schools union president last week. Elliott, who is in her 25th year as an educator with Indianapolis Public Schools, is credited with raising concerns to state leaders about mismanagement in the district union over the summer but said she waited months to hear whether the state union was investigating.

“We waited for our state office to do something and in our eyes you did nothing for months,” wrote Elliott, who left the union this summer. “That left us no option but to leave the association that we so much loved and tried to protect.”

On Saturday, the state’s largest teachers union announced that Rhondalyn Cornett, the president of the Indianapolis Education Association, had resigned under pressure after an investigation indicated she had mishandled more than $100,000 over several years.

An Indiana State Teachers Association investigation discovered that Cornett had used her IEA debit card to withdraw the cash for personal use, ISTA spokeswoman Kim Clements-Johnson said.

In a text message Saturday, Cornett declined to comment.

Clements-Johnson said in an email that it was a letter from Elliott in the early summer that prompted the investigation into IEA finances and the state union is “grateful to her.”

“While it took several months to conclude the investigation, it was serious and more important that we be accurate than fast,” Clements-Johnson said.

An official from ISTA thanked Elliott when she emailed ISTA leadership on Saturday and invited her to come and meet with him, said Clements-Johnson. “That invitation stands,” she added.

Ronald Swann, the district union’s vice president, is now president. ISTA has taken control of the Indianapolis Public Schools union’s finances and will continue to manage them for the next two years. The teachers union has about 900 members, according to a state report. That’s just under half the educators in the bargaining unit.

For Elliott, a longtime union member, the investigation is an opportunity “to work together to rebuild the membership and trust.” In her email, she asked the state union to run new elections for leaders of the local branch.

“Until this occurs, I can guarantee that we will continue our movement against IEA as the teachers of IPS deserve so much more,” Elliott wrote.

In a phone call Monday, Elliott urged union members and teachers who had left the union to come to meetings that are scheduled to discuss Cornett’s resignation.

“You could consider the [Wednesday meeting] as a recruitment for membership for all of us who left the association. We’d come back if you would oversee an election of officers that included every position on the board that would occur this year,” Elliott wrote.

Last week, before the scandal involving Cornett, the teachers unions won a political victory at the ballot box when two candidates who were endorsed by the political arms of the state and local teachers unions won seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The candidates ousted two school-choice friendly incumbents with the help of the IPS Community Coalition, a group of community advocates critical of the district administration that has received funding from the NEA.