News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 8, 2012

Vigo schools begin collective bargaining process

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Even though a new contract can’t be approved until Aug. 1, informal collective bargaining has already begun between the Vigo County School Corp. and Vigo County Teachers Association.

Significant changes in state law prohibit collective bargaining on anything other than salary, wages and benefits, according to Craig Blume, director of Uniserv and organizing for the Indiana State Teachers Association.

In Vigo County, negotiating teams had their first meeting Nov. 27, said Superintendent Dan Tanoos. They’ll meet again in late January.

On Thursday, Tanoos, chief negotiator Chuck Rubright, the district’s bargaining team and several central office staff met to talk about the current contract and negotiations. The existing two-year contract expires July 31.

According to Blume, “The playing field is no longer level” in teacher contract talks statewide. “It has been severely skewed in favor of the administration by the new legislation.”

Tanoos says that in Vigo County, both sides have worked well together in the past and that will continue. He meets regularly with Mark Lee, president of the Vigo County Teachers Association.

“There’s no sense in it being an us vs. them” situation, Tanoos said. “We’re going to treat our teachers as professionals, as we have in the past.”

The negotiating teams will work together to come up with a collective bargaining agreement.

In addition, there will be a separate set of administrative guidelines that deal with such areas as working conditions, which can no longer be included in the contract.

Those administrative guidelines will be a “side agreement,” based on discussions between the administration and VCTA teams, Tanoos said.

As an example, he said he “strongly believes” there should be administrative guidelines for faculty meetings so there is consistency among schools. “I think there has to be a commonality in some areas,” Tanoos said.

The administrative guidelines will be “fair to our teachers” and they will “produce good teaching and learning,” he said.

Most of what’s in the current teacher’s contract benefits teaching and learning, Tanoos said, “but there are some items that administratively we would like to see go away.” The district will probably not agree to include them in a separate agreement.

He said he could not talk about specifics.

Tanoos said the district has received guidance from the School Board on “what direction they’d like to see us go in terms of discussions.”

He’s aware that contentious contract talks are occurring in some other districts around the state, but here, “We are going to work together,” Tanoos said.

Lee, VCTA president, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Blume noted that under the new law, formal bargaining cannot begin until Aug. 1, which is when a new contract can be ratified.

The law spells out clear timelines for collective bargaining, Blume said. If the two sides don’t reach an agreement by Sept. 30, an impasse is declared and the state assigns a mediator.

They have until mid-November to try and reach an agreement, and if that doesn’t happen, both sides must submit their sealed, last best offer. A factfinder is assigned and each side can present rationale in support of its final offer.

The factfinder then decides on one of the offers, but it cannot be a “mix and match” of both, Blume said. According to the law, the entire process must conclude by Dec. 31.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.