Pike Township schools were forced to suddenly close Wednesday after 91 of its around 700 instructional staff called out sick.
The closure comes as some teachers continue to voice concerns over the ongoing collective bargaining dispute between the district and the Pike Classroom Teachers Association. Monday is the deadline for teacher unions and school corporations to approve compensation packages.
The district did not directly address the teacher pay issue Wednesday.
“We understand that this is a serious hardship for many families and do not make this decision lightly,” the district said in a statement to parents. “Offering in-person instruction for our students who selected that learning option is a priority.”
The 11,000 students who attend Pike schools faced previous learning disruptions this school year due to a bus driver shortage.
Pike and the teachers union have been bargaining since Sept. 15. The district is now offering teachers a $2.3 million overall increase. But the teachers union rejected this offer. The union is asking for $3.5 million in raises, a reduction from an earlier offer.
PCTA President Chris Ludy said he is open to a compromise on the pay raise amount with the district. He said it would be illegal for the union to coordinate the call out and said he didn’t know that teachers would call in sick today.
“It's just become a very toxic environment that I believe the administration has created for the staff of Pike Township,” Ludy said. “But then it obviously affects the parents and the families and the students and we're just wanting the administration to work with PCTA to ensure that we can have a fair contract for all teachers.”
The Pike Township Board of Education will meet 7 p.m. Thursday — the teacher’s contract is not currently listed as an agenda item.
The Pike High School Equity Team also sent a letter to Superintendent Flora Reichanadter, the school board and district staff yesterday. The letter, signed by nine educators, asks the district to follow its human dignity policy of treating people with ”courtesy, fairness and decency,” and work with educators to address the teacher union’s compensation concerns.
“We call upon administration to act with urgency to repair these relationships that put into jeopardy our most important mission of providing a safe and innovative environment for our students to learn and grow,” the letter said.
All Indiana school districts must file their new teacher compensation agreements by Nov. 15. If the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board doesn’t receive an agreement from Pike Township by then, the state will issue an impasse declaration. After that, the relations board will appoint a mediator within 15 days. The teacher’s union and the district would work with a mediator for 30 days. Other steps could be taken if an agreement is not reached by that point.
Last year roughly 10 of the 305 Indiana school districts reached an impasse. Only one school district needed mediation.
The district will make up for today’s lost learning on Mar. 25., a pre-scheduled flex day intended for unforeseeable school closures, such as inclement weather. Pike Township said it will continue to provide updates on school calendar changes.
Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.