700 Teachers Are Offered Buyout

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says the security change at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School is an interim policy.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee says the security change at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School is an interim policy. (By Kevin Clark -- Post)
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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday that the school system will offer buyouts to as many as 700 teachers nearing retirement or working at 50 schools slated either for closure or an academic overhaul.

In introducing the program, called the Teacher Transition Award, city and school leaders said they recognize the widespread uncertainty expressed by many teachers over what likely will be a tumultuous new school year. In the fall, Rhee plans to close 23 schools and reorganize 27 others where students have repeatedly lagged on the system's standardized tests, two initiatives that are expected to displace numerous teachers.

Many teachers "are aware of the fast-paced changes," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said at the news conference, held outside the central administration building at 825 North Capitol St. NE. "It's safe to say this will give principals and the chancellor more certainty about staffing plans."

Rhee and other officials said the program will cost $10 million this year and will offer buyouts ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 depending on years of service. It is not a way to get rid of teachers deemed to be poor performers, they added, but a response to a huge demand from teachers who are interested in leaving the system early.

While the program does not lower the retirement age, it offers a $20,000 bonus to those who opt to leave the school system this year. Teachers eligible for the $20,000 bonus are those who are 55 with 30 years of service, 60 with 20 years of service or 62 with five years of service.

Teachers at the schools slated for closure or reorganization qualify for the program regardless of their years of service. Bonuses are offered on a sliding scale: Teachers with more than 20 years would get $20,000, and those with five years or fewer would get $1,000.

"This will benefit the system and our hardworking teachers," Rhee said.

Although 1,700 of the system's 4,300 teachers are eligible for the buyout, city officials limited the offer to the first 700 who apply. Officials expect the program to ultimately save $13 million. Eligible teachers are required to apply for the program by April 25.

"We wanted to allow ourselves to offer the award to as many qualified teachers as possible," said Rhee's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson. "There's a certain amount of money. Once we hit that limit, it's all gone."

Several teachers contacted yesterday, none of whom wanted to be identified because of fears that they would be reprimanded, expressed anger that the retirement age was not lowered and that more money was not offered.

"The union and the administration led us to believe this would be an early-out program," said a 20-year veteran. "We were expecting them to lower the [retirement age] to 50 or 53. . . . This is disappointing."

A teacher at a school slated for closure, who also has worked in the system for more than 20 years, said she expected a bonus of $25,000. "We're part of the D.C. government. Why aren't we getting what they're getting?" she said.

"I don't want to work where someone doesn't want me," she added. "There's no positive attitude for senior teachers. They don't feel we're doing a good job."

Clay White, chief of staff for the Washington Teachers' Union, which worked with Rhee in devising the program, said: "Certainly our members would have preferred a broader-based program inclusive of an early-out retirement opportunity for all teachers, especially those who wish to leave the system but are not eligible for full retirement. Unfortunately, this could not be accomplished legislatively before the end of the school year."

Nathan Saunders, general vice president of the union, said he opposed the buyout program. "I'm interested in seeing people come into the profession and staying instead of people so dissatisfied with public education that they can't wait to get out," he said.

Rhee said she is in the process of determining how many teachers will be needed in the new downsized system next year. At the same time the school system is offering buyouts, she said it also is conducting an aggressive recruiting campaign to find teachers to fill vacancies.

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