Did Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee say that mediation wasn't the only option if talks with the Washington Teachers Union remained stalemated? That's kind of what it sounded like in Nicholas D. Kristof's New York Times column yesterday.
Addressing her 16-month-long fight with the union over pay and job security issues, Rhee told Kristof: "If we come to an impasse, we're going to move forward with our reforms anyway. Then it potentially gets uglier."
According to D.C. law, if the talks collapse and both sides declare an impasse, the dispute must go the District's Public Employees Relations Board. If the board finds the impasse to be legit, it is referred to a mediator, usually at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. If mediation fails, the board can arrange for binding arbitration.
Rhee deferred questions to spokeswoman Dena Iverson, who said in a statement: "We are still firmly committed to the negotiations process and look forward to working with the WTU and the AFT to reach an agreement that is respectful of teachers, good for children, and supportive of our reform efforts."
Union officials said they'd like her representatives to do some talking at the table. There have been no negotiations since the WTU and its national parent, the American Federation of Teachers, delivered their contract proposal on Jan. 31.
AFT president Randi Weingarten expressed exasperation with Rhee, citing her contrite letter to teachers on March 13 acknowleging that she had attempted to take on too much reform too soon.
"In the span of one week, the Chancellor has simultaneously apologized to teachers and told them their voices didn't count," Weingarten said in a statement. She urged Rhee to "roll up her sleeves" and "arrive at a bargaining schedule so that once and for all, the adults can actually do what we are supposed to do for the kids of D.C."