June 14, 2024

New HSE administration focus of 'hostile work environment' complaint

Educators at Hamilton Southeastern Schools filed an unfair labor claim alleging district leadership are “dominating and interfering” in union practices. - Rachel Fradette / WFYI

Educators at Hamilton Southeastern Schools filed an unfair labor claim alleging district leadership are “dominating and interfering” in union practices.

Rachel Fradette / WFYI

Four months into a new administration at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, teachers filed an unfair labor claim alleging district leadership are “dominating and interfering” in union practices and threatening to ask state lawmakers to halt collective bargaining rights. 

The Hamilton Southeastern Education Association’s unfair labor claim, submitted June 12 with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, is centered around conversations and interactions between Abby Taylor, the teacher union’s president, and Brian Murphy, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

Taylor alleges Murphy created a hostile work environment through “aggressive” messaging and a warning he may claim ghost employment against Taylor, among other allegations. Taylor said she “felt unsafe and intimidated” by Murphy during a May meeting with other staff, according to the complaint.

These issues are also documented in a formal work environment complaint filed by Taylor against Murphy with HSE administrators. The district has not responded to that complaint, according to the ULP complaint.

According to information included in the state complaint, Murphy took issue with Taylor’s response and tone toward him stemming from a discussion about staffing in HSE’s elementary schools. Phone calls, text messages and emails between both parties quickly became a continuing point of contention this spring. 

Murphy shared his concerns about Taylor to the Indiana State Teachers Association. Murphy also asked that she be fired from her position or he would involve House Speaker Todd Huston, the complaint alleges. Huston lives in Fishers. 

The states’ largest teachers union had no further comment on the ULP complaint. The unfair labor practice complaint will now go to a hearing examiner from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board to review it. 

Union leader alleges “hostile work environment” 

Murphy was previously the state Department of Education’s chief of staff and brought in by superintendent Pat Mapes, who was hired by HSE’s school board in February. Mapes has seen several administrative changes and hirings since starting his role, including the district’s chief financial officer.

Mapes serves on the State Board of Education. Murphy was also the executive director of the board until late 2023, according to his LinkedIn profile.

This complaint comes just a few months after Mapes took the helm following more than a year of controversies by Hamilton Southeastern’s school board new conservative majority including a sudden resignation of former superintendent Yvonne Stokes in 2023.

Emily Pace Abbotts, the district’s spokeswoman, said in a statement that district leaders are aware of the recent complaint but declined to comment further on the specifics of the case.

“Hamilton Southeastern Schools deeply values the important role our educators and staff play in shaping the future of our more than 21,000 students,” Pace Abbotts said. “We are committed to maintaining our high standards of educational excellence in our classrooms.”

HSE’s school board is named in the complaint although Dr. Juanita Albright, president of the board, directed questions related to the claims to Mapes. Mapes is also served on the complaint but there’s no allegations against him. 

Taylor said HSE’s school board is not the aim of the complaint but she wants them to respond and do what’s right for teachers. Taylor spoke ahead of HSE’s June 12 school board meeting, where more than 50 teachers attended hours after filing the ULP complaint. 

“Teachers’ working conditions are students’ working conditions and if we don’t have great teacher conditions we don’t have great student conditions,”  Taylor said standing outside the administration building.

Mapes took helm after controversies

Following the abrupt departure of Stokes at school’s start, HSE’s school board conducted a search for a new leader and appointed Mapes in February. 

Mapes then began to make shifts in the central office. Matt Kegley, who served as interim superintendent after Stokes, was made deputy superintendent. Murphy was brought in and several other leadership positions were moved around with the change of hands. 

Mapes told WFYI in March that he would run a transparent school district as he has in the past. 

“We're gonna listen to concerns and we'll seek out whether or not they're true,” Mapes said “If something maybe not favorable for us is happening. We're going to address it and say it out loud. We're not going to try to polish something up that isn't true to make it look good.”

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

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