Aurora board rejects arbitration ruling

Aurora parent Karen Porter asks the Aurora School Board to reject an arbitrator's ruling that the district violated its contract with teachers while Superintendent John Barry, at right, listens.
Parent Karen Porter asks the Aurora school board to reject an arbitrator's ruling that the district violated its contract with teachers while Superintendent John Barry, at right, listens.

Aurora school board members on Tuesday rejected an arbitrator’s ruling that they violated their contract with the teachers’ union by imposing a sixth class on high school teachers without more pay.

The 5-2 vote followed nearly three hours of often emotional testimony from teachers who urged the board to accept the decision and others – principals, bus drivers, custodians – who urged it be rejected.

At stake was what district leaders said would result if the ruling were accepted, including the loss of 70 to 90 jobs to cover the $4.4 million needed to compensate high school teachers for the extra classes.

The threat of more cuts was too much for Anthony Ruiz, a 16-year bus driver who said support workers already are doing far more with much less. His own job is being downsized, from a 365-day contract to just 215 days beginning Jan. 1.

“Without custodians to open the school sites or nutrition services to feed our students or bus drivers to transport our students to their classrooms, you would not have school,” Ruiz said. “No one is challenging their commitment or their decision but I feel my job is no less important than the teachers.

“If the high school teachers are above being asked to do more, then this $4.4 million will hit us again.”

After the vote, Board President Matt Cook read a brief statement describing the rejection as “the right thing to do for the district as a whole.”

Extra class part of budget package

School board members approved the additional class in March as part of $17 million in budget cuts to deal with dwindling state revenue for 2010-11.

Last year, Aurora high school teachers taught five 100-minute classes every two days – what’s known as a “block” schedule. They typically taught three 100-minute classes one day and two 100-minute classes the next, or a total of five different courses.

Differing views
  • “We did honor the contract and the arbitrator got it wrong.”
    Superintendent John Barry. Read his letter to staff.
  • “We believe it was about the contract and we believe it’s still about the contract.”
    Brenna Isaacs, teachers’ union president. Read her statement.

This year, the addition means they’re teaching three 100-minute classes each day, or a total of six different courses every two days. That extra 100 minutes was usually spent on planning or one-on-one time with students before the change.

Brenna Isaacs, president of the Aurora Education Association, the teachers’ union, said she got word of the change in a letter from the superintendent – without any attempt at negotiations.

The union filed a grievance, alleging the change violated the terms of the contract, and an arbitrator last month issued a non-binding ruling in its favor.

Isaacs said the ruling may be advisory but “his findings were fact.”

“We have not exhausted all options in getting all parties to live up to their word,” she said after the board vote, noting one option is a lawsuit. “We have not made any decisions, nor have we ruled anything out.”

Issue creates rift among teachers

Aurora board members approved the extra class for high school teachers after teacher and parent surveys placed it among the more popular budget measures.

That’s partly because adding the class brought high school teaching time up to par with elementary school teaching time – about 25 student contact hours a week, versus 20.8 hours weekly last year. Middle and K-8 teachers still teach slightly more.

Some Aurora teachers wore signs showing a knife through a heart to express their discontent with the district's actions.
Some Aurora teachers wore signs showing a knife through a heart to express their discontent with the district's actions.

In a survey last year to set budget priorities, 63 percent of elementary teachers who responded rated the extra class for high school teachers as a “most favorable” option. Among high school teachers, 66 percent rated it their “least favorable” option.

That divide became increasingly clear Tuesday night, as dozens of speakers took their three-minute turns at the microphone before an audience of more than 400.

Lynne Evans, a high school teacher in Aurora since 1976, said she has more students this year than in any prior year.

“Last year, I had 145 students total with five classes. This year, with six classes, I have 191 students that I see over a two-day period,” she said. “I find it almost impossible to give them the attention that they need and the feedback that they deserve …

“I have had to turn children away this year and say I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you now.”

Elementary teachers said they get half the daily planning time of high school teachers and while they may have far fewer students, they’re usually teaching them six or seven different subjects.

“You can’t possibly be ready to pay high school teachers more if you’re not ready to pay all teachers more,” a first-grade teacher at Tollgate Elementary told board members.

Dwindling dollars taking a toll

An informal count at the beginning of the meeting showed those in favor of rejecting the arbitrator’s ruling outnumbered those in support of it.

A succession of Aurora administrators – district department heads, principals – talked about how they’re handling more work with fewer people and dollars.

Aurora Education Association President Brenna Isaacs, center, listens to speakers during Tuesday's three-hour public hearing.
Aurora Education Association President Brenna Isaacs, center, listens to speakers during Tuesday's three-hour public hearing.

A handful of community members who served on the district’s budget committee also urged the board to reject the ruling, saying their tough decisions in compiling $17 million in savings should stand.

“Every company is asking every employee in these tough economic times to make sacrifices,” said Karen Porter, a parent on the committee.

Tony Johnson, a custodian at Gateway High School, said he was out of work for two years before being hired by the school and that the extra class period is “a fair concession.”

“We all need to sacrifice,” he said. “We all need to make concessions.”

Such comments clearly upset some high school teachers, who said they felt they were being portrayed as lazy or ungrateful.

Kasi Mireles, a social studies teacher at Rangeview High School, said she was ok without additional money but that, “180 students is too many students for me to connect with and to help.”

“I want to be able to connect with my students … and I don’t want anybody to get fired,” she said. “But don’t tie my hands, help me to help kids.”

Jessica Rodriguez, a North Middle School literacy teacher who taught 180 students in six courses last year, urged high school teachers to lean on each other.

Adding the sixth course for high school teachers means more options for students, she said, and that helps too. State test data later showed her students made more than a year’s growth in a year’s time.

“At the beginning of the year, I was in the same shoes that the high school teachers are in now – I was frustrated and overwhelmed,” she said. “But after many adjustments and sacrifices, I found a way to be effective. And I realized that their growth was not just because of me, it was because of the time and support these students had with more teachers in a day.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.