Education reform discussed at town hall meeting

Beth Rumsey
Staff Writer

A large group, consisting mostly of educators from Ripley and surrounding counties, gathered at the Batesville High School auditorium to discuss proposed bills in both the House and Senate designed for education reform.

The panel consisted of Representative Jud McMillan (R), Representative Randy Frye (R), Senator Jean Leising (R), Representative Bob Behning (R), Education Committee Chair, and Will Krebs, Department of Education School Leadership and Policy. The moderator for the session was Tim Putnam, president of Margaret Mary Community Hospital.

Of most concern to educators in attendance were those bills in both the House and Senate that would limit collective bargaining and evaluations and merit pay.

As the bills are currently written, teachers could bargain for wages, hours and fringe benefits. Evaluations would be one by peer review, which means other teachers would review teachers. Also, the evaluations could be completed by an outside source.

Rep. Behning explained that a student’s growth is to be measured when evaluating a teacher. According to Behning, a student’s performance is not necessarily tied to a teacher holding a master’s degree.

He explained TAP, Teacher Advancement Program, which is funded by grants and measures whole school improvements not just teachers or students. The program was first tested in Chicago where it was successful.

The program not only provides guidelines for teacher evaluations and raises but also has professional development opportunities available. According to Behning, the state is working on an on-line option that could be taken at the teacher’s convenience.

School vouchers were also discussed. According to Behning, a parent will have the ability to move a student from a public school to a private or parochial school if it is in the best interest of the student with tuition paid by the state.

According to Behning, the guidelines state that a student must be in a public school for two semesters with kindergarten not counted. It does not apply for those students already enrolled in a private or parochial school.

The proposal targets those failing schools in the state. McMillan, Frye and Leising do not believe that the schools in their district will be affected.

The proposal will have little impact for schools in this district,” said Frye. He explained that the proposal is for the larger schools that are not performing well.

The panel will take all of the input from the educators under consideration when discussing or amending the proposed bills. They reminded everyone that the bills that have not been passed are subject to changes.

All agreed that education reform is needed in Indiana. “Education has to be fixed, and it has to be fixed now,” said Rep. McMillan.

“We are here to make changes in education,” said Representative Frye. “Continue to talk to us. We will do our best to make the right decisions.”

“We have a lot of challenges ahead,” concluded Sen. Leising. “Be patient with us. We are doing our best to represent you.”

Milan High School teacher Ron Prosser posed some questions for the panel at the town hall meeting. He asked them to address truancy and students falling asleep in the classrooms after a late night playing video games. The panel agreed the lack of parental intervention was a problem, but not one that could be addressed by education reform.