Pay Dispute Continues as Classes Near

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's pay proposal is the key to her school overhaul.
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's pay proposal is the key to her school overhaul. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008

Less than two weeks before classes begin, many of the District's 4,000 public school teachers are locked in a heated debate over Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's proposal to offer salaries exceeding $100,000 for those willing to give up job security and tie their fates to student achievement.

The rift is playing out in a blizzard of cellphone messages and e-mails, Facebook entries and posts on teacher blogs such as D.C. Teacher Chic and Dee Does the District.

Some of the teachers who want "green tier" salaries plan to demonstrate this morning at teacher union offices on L'Enfant Plaza.

The split in the teaching corps largely, but not exclusively, is occurring along generational lines, with younger teachers more willing to accept the risks and older ones often questioning the proposal.

Jerome Brocks, a special education teacher with 34 years of experience in D.C. schools, seethes when he talks about Rhee's salary proposal.

"It's degrading and insulting," said Brocks, to ask that teachers give up tenure and go on probation for a year if they choose the more lucrative of the two salary tiers under the plan, which is at the center of contract negotiations between the city and the Washington Teachers' Union.

He said that Rhee wants only to purge older teachers and that for instructors to sell out hard-won protections against arbitrary or unfair dismissal is unthinkable.

"For Michelle Rhee or anyone to ask that is like Judas and 30 pieces of silver," Brocks, 59, said.

Julia Rosen, putting her classroom in order this week for her third year as a second grade teacher at Key Elementary School, said she would have no problem with a system in which her pay, and maybe her job, was tied to her students' academic growth.

"At this school, I think any of us could excel in that kind of a scenario," Rosen, 25, said.

The proposal is the linchpin of the chancellor's quest to overhaul public education in the District, a way to attract and retain high-quality instructors who would be held accountable for growth in student achievement. It would make them among the nation's best-paid public school instructors, enabling those with just five years of experience to make more than $100,000 in salary and bonuses.

Under the proposal, teachers who want to accept lower, but still significant, pay increases can keep the job security that comes with tenure. Those opting for top salaries, however, relinquish that protection. Those coming into the D.C. system would be required to enter the so-called "green" plan.

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