The Herald Bulletin

November 19, 2013

Rick Muir: Difficult days for teachers

State funding cuts, voucher program among issues

By Randy Rendfeld The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — As Rick Muir looks back on his career as an educator and a teachers’ union leader, he says these last few years have been the most difficult.

Muir is the president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers in Indianapolis and no longer a local union officer. He retired in 2010 after 37 years as an Anderson teacher although he and his wife, Peggy, still live in Anderson.

The way Muir sees it, education is under attack. Education funding was cut by the state several years ago. To help balance the budget locally, Anderson teachers agreed to give back 2 percent of their pay in 2010, then 3 percent in 2011. That 5 percent was restored last year.

Then, the state’s collective bargaining laws were changed in 2011 so that teacher unions could only bargain for pay and pay-related benefits, but not broader language. For Anderson teachers, that created a problem because their contract covers much more than pay, he said.

The Anderson Federation of Teachers’ master contract with the Anderson Community Schools board is more than 150 pages long. For example, teacher discipline, class sizes, the school year’s calendar, working conditions and even dress code are included.

Muir says when he left the local union in 2010, he wanted to bargain for a lengthy contract. The existing contract should expire in 2018. Muir hopes that by 2018 more union-friendly politicians might be in power.

In days gone by, the union and school board would meet yearly and renegotiate pay and benefits. But now there’s a catch. The laws have changed.

Muir says according to some legal opinions if the board and union negotiate pay and benefits, it’s considered opening the contract.

“And there is an argument that you’ll lose your contract at that time,” he said. “So you can’t even go bargain a raise right now without fear of losing your contract. ... Because once you lose it, you lose everything.”

Will the language be void if reopened? “That’s a big question,” said Jean Chaille, president of the ACS board. She said by some interpretations “it depends on which area of the contract is reopened.” She said the law is relatively new and in some ways untested.

That being the case, Muir said it could be 10 years before Anderson teachers get raises. They last received raises in 2008, he said.

He said the school board could grant stipends without reopening the contract. Some school districts are doing that “because they appreciate their educators and employees,” Muir said.

Near the end of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ term, Indiana adopted the most expansive voucher program in the nation. With vouchers, students can go to other public, private or parochial schools, and tax funds go with them. Muir said that weakens the urban schools.

“It’s draining the communities,” Muir said. “It’s setting segregation back decades. When there are no boundaries any more in school districts and communities and you can go anywhere you can provide the transportation, people are leaving the urban districts.

“And then we judge those urban districts on the same measurements, and the playing field’s not the same. Poverty, at-risk students, special-needs students, minorities, English as a second language learners, you’ll find those concentrated in your urban districts.”

The A-F grading system for schools has allowed private enterprises to run for-profit rescue programs for failing schools, Muir said. “They found millions of dollars to be made in education. It’s a new venture.”

However, Muir said today’s teachers are the best trained he’s seen in his lifetime.

Teachers aren’t afraid of accountability, Muir said. “We welcome it. We’re for improvement. You wouldn’t be in this field if you didn’t believe that. But you’ve got to give teachers all the help they need. Teachers have never worked longer and harder than they do today, and yet they meet with more frustration.”

Contact Randy Rendfeld at randy.rendfeld@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4861.

Contract Online The Anderson master contract for teachers expires 2018. It can be viewed in its entirety at http://www.acsc.net/images/Board_reports/CONTRACTS/Contract_Certified2010-2018.pdf Rick Muir: Biographical ◆ 37-year teacher with Anderson Community Schools ◆ Taught fifth and sixth grade ◆ Coached wrestling, baseball, football ◆ 21 years as president of Anderson Federation of Teachers ◆ 16 years on Anderson City Council ◆ Retired 2010 ◆ Lives on historic Eighth Street ◆ Now serving his 13th year as president of the state teachers union, which recently changed its name to American Federation of Teachers Indiana