Issues in Chicago teachers strike mirror concerns of some NWI educators

2012-09-10T16:45:00Z 2012-09-12T00:01:06Z Issues in Chicago teachers strike mirror concerns of some NWI educatorsBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Some local educators see similarities in the issues facing striking Chicago public school teachers and the problems Indiana teachers have dealt with.

Chicago public school teachers went on strike Monday, putting nearly 400,000 students out of school. Union leaders called for a strike Sunday night for the first time in 25 years in the nation's third-largest school district. The key issues are salaries and benefits, but other factors contributing to the friction include teacher evaluations and job security.

Munster Teachers Association President Ryan Ridgley said using test scores in teacher evaluations has been a "hot button" issue in Indiana and Illinois.

"The difference is that Illinois has it right, in that it is being negotiated at the local level and not being mandated by the state, which means politically mandated," Ridgley said. "We can't have our School Board members run with a political endorsement, yet the state politicians are dictating education policy."

Like everything else in education, this is a power struggle, Ridgley said. Teachers want a say in what goes on in their jobs, especially when linking their evaluations to outside forces, he said.

"While teachers can be a great influence on how well students do on standardized tests, they are not the only factor," Ridgley said, echoing comments of other region teachers and administrators over the past year. "Using student scores on evaluations doesn't take those outside factors into play. Because of this, teachers have fought and are still fighting the use of test scores in their evaluations," Ridgley said.

Obviously in Indiana, we are starting a new era of teacher evaluation with a new system, said Union Township Schools Superintendent John Hunter.

"In Indiana, all certificated employees in the school will be evaluated and held accountable to different standards than what we had in the past," Hunter said. "All certificated employees will be rated as highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective. Only the first two categories will receive additional compensation."

George Letz, superintendent at MSD Boone Township, said one difference between region and Chicago teachers, however, is pay. Letz said teachers in Boone Township have not had a raise for three years, going into four years. "They have had their pay increments each year but once you reach the top of the scale, unless there is a pay raise you don't get any more money and that's true of all of our staff, administrators, secretaries and custodians," he said.

Chicago school teachers start at a much higher salary than those in Northwest Indiana, he said. He said the highest starting salary in the region he was aware of was about $37,000, while beginning teachers in Hebron start at less than $32,000.

"I believe Chicago teachers start at about $50,000 and they can go as high as $95,000," Letz said. "I know they were offered a 2 percent raise for each of the next four years. That would be quite an offer in Northwest Indiana."

Neither Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger nor Indiana Federation of Teachers President Rick Muir have been closely following the Chicago negotiations, but both say there are similarities regarding concerns about teacher evaluations.

"I personally applaud them for standing up on these issues," Muir said.

Stephanie Sample, Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman, said she doesn't see any strong ties between what's happening in Illinois to what happens in Indiana because the two states operate differently.

"We do have teacher evaluations (that include student performance/growth) tied to salary increases, but we put in place careful transitions and timelines for implementation," she said. "Also, Indiana lets the local districts build their own evaluations, and teachers weigh in but not through collective bargaining. In Indiana, teachers collectively bargain their salaries and benefits, but not things like effectiveness evaluations. Also, it’s illegal for teachers to strike in Indiana."

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