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Teacher Contract Would End Seniority

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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Washington Teachers' Union is discussing a proposed three-year contract from the school system that would eliminate seniority, giving Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee more control in filling vacancies, a union member familiar with the talks said yesterday.

Without seniority, Rhee could place teachers based on qualifications or performance rather than years of service, said the union member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. The union member said Rhee sought the provision as a recruiting tool so she could offer talented candidates the position of their choice. She would be able to fill positions with less experienced teachers.

Under the proposed contract, teachers would give up seniority in exchange for annual raises of about 6 percent, more personal-leave days and more money for supplies, the union member said. In the last contract, which expired in the fall, teachers received a 10 percent raise over two years.

Rhee "does want to infuse some new blood [into the schools]. She wants to make it attractive for young people coming in to advance," said the union member, adding that the union's negotiating team will meet with her tomorrow or Friday. "We've come to realize we're going to have to give in to her."

The union member said Rhee had also wanted to eliminate tenure, subjecting teachers to dismissal without cause. In March, Rhee fired 98 central office employees after the D.C. Council gave her the authority to make several hundred of them "at-will" staff members.

At a conference yesterday sponsored by the NewSchools Venture Fund, which backs charter schools, Rhee said during a discussion that she expects the new teachers' contract to be settled soon. In her remarks, she said the contract would "revolutionize education as we know it." She declined to discuss details after the meeting.

Union President George Parker said in an interview that "seniority definitely is one of the difficult issues at the table." Responding to Rhee's comment, he said, "In terms of revolutionizing education, I'm not sure I see anything at this point that will revolutionize education."

About the tenure issue, Parker said, "I don't believe in at-will status for any employee."

The proposal would have to be approved by the union's negotiating team before being submitted to the full membership.

Under the current contract, teachers get seniority after two years. With tenure, if they lose their job, they can apply for positions at other schools in the system. Tenured teachers can be fired only for cause, such as receiving a poor evaluation or committing an act that subjects them to discipline.

Rhee has talked about offering "differentiated compensation" for teachers -- basing raises on factors such as improved student test scores rather than years of service. This year, she gave bonuses to teachers at Barnard Elementary School in Northwest Washington, where students made significant gains on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System. She said she hoped that would set an example.

But the union member said the compensation issue is "not on the table" now. "It will take some work before she can bring that in."


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