Three school districts in Elkhart County are among a growing list of schools across Indiana that will not be in session a week from Tuesday due to a large number of educators requesting the day off to attend the Red for Ed Action Day at the Statehouse.
So far, Elkhart, Concord and Baugo school districts have announced plans to close school Nov 19.
Organized by the Indiana State Teachers Association, Red for Ed Action Day is designed to encourage state legislators to boost funding for teacher salaries and to promote education. Nov. 19 is the General Assembly’s Organization Day.
The president of the Indiana State Teachers Association said at least 4,000 teachers have registered for the Statehouse lobbying effort. The union said more than 30 school districts have canceled classes or are having students work online from home that day.
School district officials in Elkhart County say so many teachers are taking personal time off for the Nov. 19 rally that they wouldn’t be able to find enough substitute teachers to cover classrooms. Some have also expressed support for the push by teachers for a bigger boost in school funding.
Elkhart Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said the school district was originally planning on an online-learning day at the middle school and high school level and a regular schedule for elementary schools.
“However, due to increasing numbers of teachers who are opting to use personal days to attend that day, we arrived at a point where we became concerned about classroom coverage and a safe and orderly day of learning," Thalheimer said. “We were beginning to exhaust our substitute pool and had more and more classroom settings that we could not cover.”
About 200 teachers from Elkhart Community Schools have signed up to attend the rally and the number has been growing each day, said Kerry Mullet, president of the Elkhart Teachers Association.
The goal of Elkhart Community educators, Mullet said, is to urge legislators to get serious about their responsibility to support public education.
”We are tired of all the excuses as to why our state isn’t providing adequate funding for all school corporations,” she said. “We are frustrated with the stagnant wages of all public school employees and the unfunded mandates and requirements that the legislative assembly continues to churn out year after year. These poor policy decisions are crippling communities and harming students, families and the citizens they elected to serve.”
The district’s make-up day will be Feb.14.
At Concord, Superintendent Tim Tahara said the decision to cancel school rather than conduct an eLearning Day was made in an effort to protect the wages of classified staff — office workers, school bus drivers, aides, food service staff and classroom paraprofessionals — who would not receive pay on an unplanned eLearning Day.
“As a school district, Concord is fortunate to be able to offer competitive salaries in comparison to other similar-sized school districts across the state. Yet we recognize that Indiana is lagging far behind our neighboring states in providing adequate funding for teacher salaries,” Tahara said in a statement. “We are pleased that a large group of our Concord teachers will be supporting their peers."
Laura Livrone, president of the Concord Teachers Association, said the association is aware of over 100 Concord teachers who are planning to attend, and the group continues to grow as the event nears.
“Many teachers are driving in groups, some the night before, but we’ve also chartered a 56-passenger bus to transport about half our group,” she said.
Livrone said attending the rally is important to send a loud and clear message that Indiana needs to do better to keep teachers in the state.
“We hope to raise awareness of the financial woes of Indiana's schools and remind the legislators that 90% of the state's children depend on public school teachers and other school employees for their educations,” she said. “Hoosiers need to know that Indiana teacher salaries are now the lowest in our six-state area."
"After a decade of languishing education funding, we are now receiving smaller increases than inflation — the lowest increases in the entire country," Livrone said. "This doesn't help school employees even keep up with our own expenses, let alone catch up for a decade of essentially flatlined school employee incomes.”
Concord’s make-up day will be April 17.
District leaders at Baugo made the decision Thursday afternoon to cancel school.
Superintendent Byron Sanders said over 30 teachers — which is more than 30 percent of the district’s teachers — requested personal leave to attend the event.
“We support our teachers and we want them to have their voice heard,” he said. “We held off from canceling school as long as we could, but it was at a point where our ability to cover our classrooms exceeded the number of substitutes we had available, and we didn’t want to wait and not give families adequate time to plan for an unscheduled day off.”
As a make-up day, Sanders said the district will extend the school year by one day, making June 3 the last day of class.
District leaders at Middlebury, WaNee and Fairfield said there haven’t been enough teachers who have submitted a request for personal days to justify the need to close schools, but that could change in the coming days.
Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth said on Thursday the district is trying to ascertain the number of teachers who will be attending and will make a decision based on that information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.