By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Continued tensions within the leadership of the Washington Teachers' Union over contract talks with the D.C. school system broke into the open yesterday as two members of the group's executive board protested plans for Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to speak at a series of membership meetings that begins today.
Union President George Parker said last week that the "informational sessions" would be held to brief teachers on negotiations for a new labor deal. The centerpiece of the talks is Rhee's proposal for a two-tiered salary system, in which teachers could receive substantial raises if they relinquish some seniority rights and assume some accountability for test scores.
Parker also said Rhee would appear at the meetings, to be held at McKinley Technological High School, to answer teachers' questions. Linking teacher pay to student achievement has traditionally drawn sharp opposition from teachers unions.
In separate forums yesterday, two of the union's 22 board members expressed outrage at plans for Rhee to speak to teachers before work on a proposed contract is complete.
Union General Vice President Nathan A. Saunders and board member Candi Peterson said Parker and Rhee are using the meetings to try to bypass union leadership and promote the pay plan to members.
In an e-mail to other board members that was copied to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and other national union leaders, Saunders said: "These actions appear to be disguised opportunities for Mr. Parker and Ms. Rhee to jointly sell performance pay, void or modify teacher tenure and seniority and otherwise destroy" the Washington Teachers' Union.
Peterson called on teachers to boycott the informational meetings.
"Even if [performance pay] is the option the membership should choose, then we have the right to review any tentative proposal without coercion or influence by Chancellor Rhee," Peterson wrote in a letter to DCWatch, an online magazine about city politics.
Both board members have sharply criticized Parker's leadership. Relations between Parker and his vice president have unraveled so much that Saunders sued this year, alleging that Parker violated his rights to free speech by barring anyone besides himself from speaking on behalf of the union.
Before the board met last night at union headquarters with Parker and Rhee to discuss the teacher sessions, Saunders promised "civil disobedience" to protest the plan.
Parker angrily said Parker was pursuing "a political agenda."
"I'm not going to get into a conversation with Nathan Saunders in the newspaper," Parker said.
The meeting proceeded without disruption.