Bonuses, Relaxed Rules Proposed

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

A proposed contract to be voted on today by the more than 4,000 members of the D.C. teachers union would enable teachers to earn bonuses tied to student performance and to opt out of some union work rules.

Although both programs would be voluntary and limited to a few schools, the proposals are a turnabout for the Washington Teachers' Union, whose leaders in the past have opposed various forms of pay-for-performance and more-demanding work schedules.

Union President George Parker said the changes are needed so that the District's traditional public schools can compete more successfully with the public charter schools, which have lured away thousands of students.

"The landscape has changed. Our parents are voting with their feet," Parker said. "As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent."

Fifty-one charter schools are operating in the city. In five years, charter school enrollment has grown by 7,000 students, to 17,500. During the same period, enrollment in the D.C. school system has dropped by about 10,000 students, to 58,000.

The independently run charter schools are exempt from many school system regulations and are not covered by collective bargaining agreements between the system and the teachers union. Principals can hire the teachers they want and require them to work longer hours.

The proposed contract would give similar latitude to principals at as many as 10 traditional public schools, but only if a majority of teachers at those schools agreed to the change. Teachers who did not want to participate in the pilot program would be allowed to transfer to other schools.

Some union members said they would be interested in opting out of union rules that govern work hours and other conditions as part of a plan to establish an innovative and academically rigorous school.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said such schools would be given the flexibility to hire teachers without having to go through the central office.

Under the bonus program, teachers at as many as to 10 schools would volunteer to take part and would become eligible for extra compensation based on their contribution to raising test scores and their completion of training and degree programs.

The program is similar to one in Denver, which Parker, Janey and D.C. school board members visited in November to gather information. Denver teachers can increase their pay $2,967 a year by obtaining a graduate degree, and the school system pays incentive bonuses of $989 for a satisfactory evaluation; $989 for working in hard-to-fill positions such as in bilingual education; $989 for transferring to a troubled school; and $333 for meeting the goals the teachers submit for improving student performance.

Some suburban Washington school systems, including Anne Arundel County's, pay teachers extra money for working at schools with special academic challenges.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company