Pay-Hike Plan for Teachers In D.C. Entails Probation

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said he has not endorsed the salary plan.
George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said he has not endorsed the salary plan. (By Dominic Bracco II -- The Washington Post)
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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

D.C. teachers interested in the huge salary increases proposed by Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee would not only have to relinquish their seniority but also risk dismissal by spending a year on probation, according to details of the plan released yesterday.

The tradeoff, part of one of two salary scenarios under discussion, could earn an instructor with five years of experience as much as $100,000 in base pay and bonuses. The structure would put the city's teachers in an elite class in a profession in which the national average salary is $47,600, according to the most recent survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers.

D.C. school officials said the leaps in pay would be subsidized partly by private foundations.

The plan is the centerpiece of Rhee's attempt to make the Washington school system a national model for linking teacher pay to improved student achievement. She says increased teacher accountability is key to any effort to overhaul schools, and she has targeted a seniority system that she thinks protects ineffective instructors.

Although some school systems in the country have experimented with pay-for-performance structures, Washington Teachers' Union officials say Rhee's plan would be the most far-reaching. Teachers unions have generally resisted the idea, saying too many factors outside the classroom affect student achievement.

Rhee and George Parker, president of the D.C. union, briefed teachers on the two-tiered package in meetings Tuesday and yesterday. Union officials said the proposal is a work in progress, not a tentative agreement.

But with the academic year starting a month from tomorrow, union and school negotiators said they wanted a chance to gauge teacher sentiment before resuming negotiations, which began in December.

Under the first tier of the proposal, teachers would receive pay increases totaling 28 percent over the next five years. They would also receive two "reform stipends" of $5,000 each in 2009 and 2010 "in recognition of the challenges associated with serving during this period of transition" in D.C. public schools, according to an information packet distributed to union members.

Under this scenario, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and 10 years of service who makes $56,000 could receive $73,800 by 2012. A teacher with the same experience and a master's degree could receive $84,400 in salary and bonuses.

But the plan would eliminate contract provisions that give teachers with seniority the right to "bump" less-tenured teachers if a school closes. A teacher could land a job at another school only with the consent of the principal. Teachers unable to find a principal to hire them could opt for early retirement, a $25,000 buyout or a year's grace period -- with salary and benefits -- to continue searching. If that was unsuccessful, the teacher would be fired.

Teachers choosing the second option would get bigger rewards but assume greater risks. It would provide increases of 20 percent in base pay over five years, plus the $10,000 in reform stipends. But it also would add annual performance bonuses of up to $20,000, although the plan as explained to teachers says nothing about the criteria to determine the awards. Those details are under negotiation, said teachers who attended yesterday's sessions.

Under the second option, the annual salary and bonuses for a teacher with five years of experience could go from as little as $46,500 to as much as $101,000 by 2010. Pay for a teacher with 10 years of service could jump from $56,200 to as much as $122,500. All new D.C. teachers would enter the system under this option.

As with the first option, teachers whose jobs were eliminated because of a school closing or other change would need to find a principal willing to hire them. Moreover, current teachers who choose the second plan would spend a year on probation; those new to the system would serve up to four years on that status. All would need the recommendation of a principal to secure permanent jobs. Those who don't get one would be dismissed with no chance for early retirement, a buyout or a one-year grace period.

Most teachers were reluctant to comment after the sessions at McKinley Technological High School in Northeast. Those who spoke expressed reactions ranging from tentative to hostile.

"I'm just going to take it all in," said Lilian Turner of Davis Elementary in Southeast, a teacher for 21 years.

Others denounced Parker for what they described as an unseemly collaboration with Rhee in promoting the plan.

"I'm unclear as to why the union president is coming to the union in the middle of negotiations and why the president of the union is negotiating away seniority and tenure," said Jeff Canady, who teaches third grade at Emery Elementary in Northeast.

Parker said he is open to new ideas but has not endorsed the plans presented this week. He said he wanted to give members a chance to see what was under discussion.

"I believe in teachers' judgment and teachers' intelligence," Parker said. "There's been so much information put out by people who don't want any change."

Nathan Saunders, the union's general vice president, who opposes Parker's approach to the negotiations, said the plan would place enormous power in the hands of school principals who serve at Rhee's discretion. He called the proposals "a tremendous step backwards for teachers as dignified professionals."

"It is the purchase of valuable rights for cash," Saunders said.

The information packet distributed yesterday included a copy of a little-used 2000 law on the District books that allows principals to diminish the importance of seniority by using other factors, including job evaluations, in deciding whether to retain teachers.

What Rhee intended by distributing copies of the law was not clear. She did not respond to a request for an interview.

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