News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 9, 2011

Valley teachers join Statehouse rally

Concerned about proposed reforms

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Alison West, a music teacher at West Vigo and Ouabache elementary schools, was among the large group of teachers who attended Tuesday’s Rally for Public Education in Indianapolis.

Hundreds of Indiana teachers swarmed the Indiana Statehouse to denounce sweeping education proposals backed by Republicans who control the House and Senate. Many teachers object to proposals from GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, including restrictions on collective bargaining, merit pay for teachers and vouchers that would direct taxpayer money to private schools.

In her third year of teaching, West believed it was important to attend because “I don’t feel public school teachers are being heard right now,” she said in a telephone interview after the rally had concluded.

“It’s kind of sad when state leaders don’t tell you that you are doing a good job and want to change everything you are doing when you feel you are doing the best you can,” she said. “I care about my job and what I’m doing. I want them to listen to those of us who are in schools every day and want what’s best for our kids and our public schools.”

She’s concerned the public may not understand how serious the consequences could be for public schools if the changes supported by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels become law.

“All they [the public] hear are state leaders eloquently putting us down,” West said. “I feel I want to be heard as well.”

The rally was “amazing,” she said, and she couldn’t believe all the teachers and their supporters who attended. “It was comforting to know we’re all standing together,” she said.

She wants people to know that “public schools care so much about your children and we want what’s best for them and we need support from the public. We don’t do it for ourselves — we do it for the kids.”

Sande Bemis, an English teacher at Riverton Parke Junior-Senior High School, also attended the rally.

She has taught 32 years and is close to retiring, but she’s concerned about the future of public education in Indiana. She has grandchildren in the Vigo County School Corp.

She’s concerned about several proposals, including restrictions on collective bargaining and expansion of charter schools.

Many of the legislators backing the changes “are giving the impression that schools are not effective at all. Suddenly, they have become experts on education without most of them having been in the classroom,” she said. “We are very concerned they are trying to destroy public education without having a working knowledge of what is going on in public education.”

With regard to a potential expansion of charter schools, she suggests “there is absolutely no research showing charters are performing better than public schools.”

She also has concerns that more charter schools will take money away from existing public schools. “We’re fighting to keep our heads above water now with budget cuts,” Bemis said.

She hopes the large show of teachers at the Statehouse “makes a big difference … I think it’s critically important we take a stand and let them know teachers aren’t just going to roll over and accept this.”

Shane Grimes, ISTA Uniserv director who represents Vigo, Vermillion, Clay, Sullivan and parts of Knox County, was among those attending. He is a former teacher.

One of the messages teachers hoped to convey was that every child in Indiana has the right to a free public education, not a state-subsidized private education, he said. The state should not be funding private schools.

Teachers also hoped to convey that summer school, preschool and full-day kindergarten would be effective ways to improve student achievement, not vouchers, more charter schools or curtailment of collective bargaining, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or