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Teachers' Union Chief Cites Mistrust
Rhee's Proposal Still Faces Hurdles

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Senior D.C. teachers' fear and mistrust of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's intentions are a major obstacle to approval of her potentially lucrative salary proposal, Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker said last night after a three-hour membership meeting.

"There is an overwhelming amount of distrust of the chancellor that she is going to have to address," said Parker, who briefed about 700 of the 4,000 union members on contract talks at the McKinley Technology High School auditorium in Northeast Washington.

Parker said many older teachers believe that they have been targeted for dismissal by Rhee, who has proposed a two-tiered salary plan that would pay many instructors more than $100,000 annually in pay and performance bonuses.

Those choosing the "green tier" would be required to spend a year on probation, risking termination. Teachers have the option of selecting a "red tier" that would allow them to keep tenure and accept lower raises.

Rhee has pressed Parker to bring the plan to an up-or-down vote. But Parker said last night that before such a vote, Rhee would have to show movement on several issues, including an appeals process that would give teachers recourse if they were fired under the new plan.

"Bringing it to a vote will depend on how much the chancellor is willing to give at the table," Parker said.

Attempts to reach Rhee last night were not successful.

Teachers who attended the session, which was not open to the media, seemed to remain split on the merits of Rhee's proposal and whether it should come to a vote. Several said the two-tiered system was Rhee's attempt to drive a wedge into the union.

"The red-green salary proposal is designed to divide teachers into two opposing camps," longtime Woodrow Wilson High School history teacher Erich Martel wrote in a flier he distributed. Those choosing green, he said, "surrender tenure in exchange for trusting the objectivity and fairness of the principal and chancellor." Instructors who opt for red will have chosen "the scarlet letter" and "will be stigmatized for not being on the principal's -- and chancellor's -- team."

Other teachers, especially younger ones less concerned about tenure, expressed disappointment that their chance at higher salaries linked to performance might be slipping away.

Some union activists accused Parker of misrepresenting Rhee's plan by downplaying the level of risk that teachers would assume under the new salary framework. Several said that Parker was repeatedly asked why it was necessary to split teachers into two groups but that he never answered the question.

"All they got tonight was bamboozled and confused," said General Vice President Nathan Saunders, who announced the formation of a new teachers group, Committee for Fair Reform in D.C. Public Schools, to oppose Rhee's plan and other personnel decisions she has made as chancellor.

The committee is sponsoring a prayer service for "social justice in the workplace" Friday evening at Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest Washington.

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