July 1, 2024

HSE superintendent says serve kids or ‘leave’ his district amid union fight

The Hamilton Southeastern Schools administration building in Fishers. - Rachel Fradette / WFYI

The Hamilton Southeastern Schools administration building in Fishers.

Rachel Fradette / WFYI

Pat Mapes is making his plan for Hamilton Southeastern Schools clear. The district’s new superintendent said those who aren’t on board to “serve students” can leave his district.

“If we've employed people who do not want to serve students and put their own agenda in front of a mission to educate students then those people should leave our district because we're here to serve students,” Mapes said at the HSE board meeting last week.

His comments come a few weeks after the Hamilton Southeastern Education Association — the district’s teachers’ union — filed a complaint alleging unfair labor practices, ULPs, from the administration.

That complaint stems from conversations and interactions between Abby Taylor, the union’s president, and Brian Murphy, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources and a recent hire by Mapes.

Taylor contends Murphy created a hostile work environment through “aggressive” messaging, among other claims.

Mapes took a stance against some of the union’s message about working conditions. Mapes, who has frequently shared this thought as a member of the Indiana State Board of Education, believes adult agendas often get in the way of students' needs, he said.

“I've been surprised of the number of adult issues there are to deal with and it feels like students become secondary and that's a concern,” Mapes said at the Wednesday meeting. “The comment’s been made that educator working conditions are student learning conditions. Well, I would hope that teacher job satisfaction would come from students' academic success. We can do both.”

Abby Taylor, president of the Hamilton Southeastern teachers’ union, told teachers outside HSE’s school board meeting that they won’t back down.

“There aren't sides when it comes to treating people kindly,” Taylor said before the meeting. “There aren't sides. We as teachers have never chosen a side. We have chosen to support students every every step of the way.”

The HSE administration and the union could be leading up to a fight as the complaint heads to a legal timeline under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board.

Mapes and HSEA told WFYI that they don’t believe a settlement will be reached.

Settling complaints

Becky Slayton, who is referenced in the complaint, said the Indiana State Teachers Association has not heard from district attorneys since filing the allegations. Slayton is HSE’s regional officer for the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“We don't just do an unfair labor practice without thinking it through,” Slayton said. “We don't do an unfair labor practice without giving lots of opportunities for people to change what is happening.”

Mapes said he’s never dealt with a ULP complaint in his years as an educator. Mapes took issue with union leadership not speaking to him directly before filing the complaint and said he wants a cooperative relationship with employee groups.

“We didn’t file it,” Mapes said. “They did.”

Mapes declined to comment further about accusations in the complaint citing legal reasons. Taylor said district leaders and board members were told about the pending ULP and they did not address it.

HSE is required to respond to the unfair labor practice complaint by Tuesday, according to the Indiana Education Employment Board.

The complaint will be reviewed by an IEERB hearing examiner. A prehearing is set for later this month.

Mapes makes statement for the future

Mapes used Wednesday’s meeting to outline his plans for the future of Hamilton Southeastern, the state’s fourth largest school district. Before he spoke to a packed room, tensions were already high as some attendees, mostly teachers, audibly responded to his comments

Mapes has made some swift moves since he was appointed in February. He created a new leadership team with mostly new or returning hires, including a chief financial officer and assistant superintendents.

He eliminated most of the district’s equity coach positions, which were established within the last five years. Mapes claims educators in those positions were not addressing the needs of students.

“Our counselors were already doing that kind of work in their buildings,” Mapes said. “They’re working with our students who need support.”

Equity coaches, who were in each of the district’s schools, participated in diversity, equity and inclusion training and facilitated conversations on related topics. They also were expected to address student and parent concerns.

Mapes also expressed concern about services for students with disabilities, who make up 11 percent of HSE students.

Since January, more than 17 complaints were filed against HSE for not meeting individualized education plans, or IEPs, Mapes said. Students with disabilities have a right to specialized instruction and services under the law.

In the spring, Mapes pushed for teachers who hold special education licenses to fill open spots in the district's special education program. Previously, there was upset that teachers would be forced into those roles. Mapes claimed only teachers who volunteered filled the positions. 

These and other issues at HSE are often debated by the Fishers community on social media, where polarizing topics and misinformation spawn inflammatory interactions between commenters.

Mapes said he won’t engage with people on social media to argue or discuss district matters. He told members of the public that information will be on the district’s website.

But as of July 1, the dissolution of equity coaches and moving of special education licensed teachers hadn’t been shared publicly on the district’s website. While HSE’s administration has every right to make decisions for the whole district, Taylor said a good workplace should still consider feedback.

“You can hit the ground running, but if you don't have teachers aware of the changes or a part of that decision making process, it makes it harder,” Taylor said.

Mapes said he has no plans to slow down.

“We’re going to run fast,” Mapes said. “We’re going to serve kids.”

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


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