This morning's "Welcome Back" rally at the Washington Convention Center for 5,000 returning D.C teachers started with cheers, cash prizes for schools that pulled off big gains in test scores, and inspirational words to launch the fall term that begins Monday.
But warm-and-fuzzy quickly gave way to bread-and-butter as Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and union president George Parker turned the subject to the proposed pay package that has roiled the city's teacher corps.
Rhee has offered teachers a "green tier" pay plan that would boost many of them over the $100,000 mark in salary and performance bonuses, in exchange for surrendering tenure protections for a year and going on probation. Teachers who want to retain tenure can opt for the "red tier" with lower, but still significant, raises and bonuses.
"I've heard all the rumors," Rhee said. "Rhee is trying to get rid of the veteran teachers. Rhee is trying to get rid of the black teachers ..... ...I understand the anxiety."
"What I need is for you to have trust, in me and in the school district," she said, as a rustle of skeptical murmurs passed through the ballroom. "I know that trust doesn't come over night, and I have to earn that trust."
Parker, who said he has been pelted with messages pro and con on Rhee's plan, is wrestling with whether to bring it to a membership vote, even if it contains provisions -- such as the one-year probationary period -- that he finds noxious.
"One of the things my mom told me is that if you ever want to go from point A to point B, you've got to through some stuff. Some messy stuff," Parker said.
"What this boils down to is...What kind of contract do we bring to you to ratify?" Parker said, before asking for a show of hands -- for and against.
The results? Kind of depends on who you ask. From the stage, Rhee said, she saw many teachers who didn't raise a hand either way, suggesting that there is still a lot of confusion over the proposal.
Parker said sentiment appeared to run about 2-to-1 against a vote, roughly mirroring the results of a recent poll commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers. From other vantage points, the margin looked a little closer.
Parker said he would call a membership meeting for next week before he makes a final decision.