Some Union Officials Tell Teachers To Spurn District's Buyout Offer

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The vice president and a trustee of the Washington Teachers' Union said yesterday they are urging teachers at 50 schools slated for closure or academic overhaul to reject Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's buyout offer.

Last week, Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced a plan that would allow up to 700 teachers to accept bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, depending on their years of service, in exchange for agreeing to leave the school system in June. Rhee said she offered the plan after leaders of the 4,200-member union informed her of widespread dissatisfaction among teachers about the turmoil that will be created next school year when she closes 23 schools and reorganizes 27 others.

Nathan Saunders, the union's general vice president, and Candi Peterson, a member of its board of trustees, said they have heard from numerous teachers who are angry about the buyout. The teachers, they said, are upset that Rhee dropped an initial proposal to offer an "early out" program to teachers nearing retirement, replacing it with a buyout program that applies to teachers across the board at the 50 schools.

"They need to know they have jobs. There's no need to be forced out, unless they want to leave," said Peterson, a special education social worker who works at four schools. She said she is using e-mails and conversations with building representatives to discourage teachers at the 50 schools from taking the buyout.

"No credible school system would encourage young and mid-level teachers to resign," she said, adding that she demanded to be placed on the agenda of next week's meeting of the union's board and delegates so she can ask WTU President George Parker to explain the extent of his involvement in the plan. "Most teachers in the restructured and closed schools are certified. . . . Rhee will probably hire teachers who are not certified."

Saunders said: "I'm against workers selling their jobs back to management and for new workers to be hired. . . . I am making these statements to every teacher I see."

Rhee's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, said in a statement: "While the plan may not completely satisfy adults, the students of the District of Columbia are the motivating factors in this and every decision the Mayor and Chancellor make. This initiative is simply an option, and under no circumstance should anyone feel obligated to participate."

The program offers a $20,000 bonus to those who have reached retirement age and opt to leave the school system this year. That applies to teachers who are 55 years old and have 30 years of service; 60 with 20 years of service; or 62 with five years of service.

The other teachers at the schools slated for closure or reorganization would be eligible for bonuses on a sliding scale based on years of service. Those with more than 20 years would get $20,000, and those with five or fewer years would get $1,000.

Parker said he also is frustrated that Rhee replaced the early out with the buyout, which he called "unattractive," but he is not advising teachers how to respond. He said school leaders told him they could not offer the early out because it required legislative action that could not be completed before the end of the school year. He said he learned about the final details of the program Wednesday afternoon, the day before Rhee's announcement.

"If the chancellor was looking to get rid of a large number of teachers without [a layoff], she could have done it more effectively through an early out," Parker said. "I trust the judgment of our teachers; they can decide for themselves whether it will benefit them financially."

Kerry Sylvia has taught government for eight years at Cardozo High in Northwest, one of 27 schools to be reorganized because it failed to meet adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law for five consecutive years. Sylvia, who won an educator of the year award for her work in teaching students street law, said she is reluctantly considering the buyout because she feels "highly insulted" by the school system.

Rhee's message in offering the buyout, Sylvia said, is, "We don't care how good of a teacher you are, we just want you out of here." That, Sylvia said, "infers that teachers are the problem."

The buyout "is tempting," she added. "I'm working in a system that's not putting children first."

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