By Erica Irish
INDIANAPOLIS — A bill set to change how teachers, their union representatives and schools settle workplace disagreements advanced out of the House Education Committee Monday after much debate on how much privacy those conversations deserve.
The core of Senate Bill 390, authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, would change how schools conduct unfair practice negotiations with their teachers and union representatives. In its amended form, the bill, which passed in an 8-3 vote along party lines, would limit schools to one private meeting in the negotiation process and instead require them to bargain with teachers in public, among other requirements.
Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, testifies before the House Education Committee about Senate Bill 390, which would open some negotiations between teachers and the school district to the public. Photo by Erica Irish, TheStatehouseFile.com
“There have been some instances around the state of what we would consider to be unfair practices,” Houchin explained before reading testimony from those she said her bill could protect.
Some community advocates took issue with this change, noting the provision to require that negotiations be held in public could limit the ability of teachers to speak out against their employers.
Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, also addressed this risk, and used the legislators themselves to illustrate his point.
“This is tantamount to you guys, your committee…met privately this morning before you came in here to decide how you’re going to vote on these amendments and on these bills,” Spradlin said. “We need to have some private meetings to really have constructive, meaningful dialogue.”
Spradlin suggested that the committee allow schools to hold public preliminary fact-finding hearings instead of hosting the actual negotiations in public to still allow the community to provide input on an issue.
While that request did not advance, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, did convince the committee to expand the number of permitted private meetings from one every 60 days to three.
“Some of those meetings can be eight or 10 hours long,” Cook explained. The legislator formerly served as the principal of Noblesville High School.
Rep. Woody Burton, R-Greenwood, also offered an amendment that took the bill in a different direction. His amendment would require schools to use voice-to-text technology and human readers during all sections of the state’s standardized tests to accommodate students who are deaf, blind or dyslexic.
Representatives from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) opposed the amendment, saying it could yield inaccurate or invalid test scores.
“The intent of the amendment compromises the validity of the assessment, both in implementation and reporting,” Flores said. “Assessment development and design practices require an appropriate balance of several key aspects, most notably validity and reliability.”
Houchin, alongside several lawmakers on the education committee, made clear her support for the proposal when it was introduced and referred to her own son’s challenges with dyslexia.
“To say that we’re affecting the validity of a test because we’re providing an accommodation that is so clearly need in the classroom is concerning to me coming from the department,” Houchin said. “I’m flabbergasted.”
SB 390 advances to the full House.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.