Clarification to This Article
This article about the new D.C. teacher contract gave an incomplete description of a 1996 law that gave the D.C. public school system sole authority over creation of a teacher-evaluation system. The article said correctly that Congress passed the law but should have noted that the D.C. Council initiated and approved the measure before the congressional action.

D.C. teachers' union ratifies contract, basing pay on results, not seniority

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010

District teachers ratified a new contract Wednesday that dramatically expands Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's ability to remove poor educators and places Washington on a growing list of cities and states that have established classroom results, not seniority, as the standard by which teachers are paid.

Members of the Washington Teachers' Union approved the pact 1,412 to 425 after a two-week voting period. The agreement now goes to the D.C. Council, where it is expected to be swiftly approved.

The contract, a product of nearly 2 1/2 years of contentious negotiations, combines a rich traditional financial package with unorthodox initiatives historically resisted by unionized teachers. It includes a five-year, 21.6 percent increase in base pay that will boost the average annual salary of a D.C. educator from $67,000 to about $81,000 and gives the city's public school teachers salaries comparable to those in surrounding suburban districts, according to a union survey. The payday stands out amid a wave of deep school budget cuts across the country. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Wednesday, for instance, that his city will eliminate raises for its public school teachers and principals over the next two years to avoid deep job reductions.

Although the contract breaks new ground for the District, the extraordinary pace of change in national education policy has in some ways overtaken the document. When negotiations started in late 2007, the concepts embedded in Rhee's contract and evaluation proposals -- performance pay linked to test score growth, weakening of seniority and tenure -- were far more politically polarizing. As both sides hammered away at the bargaining table, these issues were swept into the mainstream by the Obama administration. Its "Race to the Top" grant competition encourages states to revamp their laws to incorporate some of these ideas. Several states, including Colorado and New York, have passed laws addressing these issues in the hope of snagging some of the $3.4 billion on the table.

"The ideas have gained currency at the national level," said former Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is dean of Howard University's law school and was a mediator between the union and the District. "What was seen as bold is now reform, not revolution."

The highlights

A voluntary performance pay program to begin this fall could add $20,000 to $30,000 to D.C. teachers' salaries, based on significant improvement in student test scores and other yet-to-be specified criteria. The system, to be financed for the first three years under a controversial arrangement with private foundations approved by District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, could raise total compensation for some instructors to $140,000, officials estimate. Although cities such as Denver have had incentive pay programs for several years, none promise the kind of money that Rhee says she is prepared to pay. For teachers who enter the plan, it means no longer having to invest 10 to 15 years in a lockstep pay schedule to command a significant income.

The contract -- in tandem with a new teacher evaluation system that will use growth in test scores as one benchmark -- will also dilute job security for some educators. It allows principals to use job performance, instead of seniority, as the chief determinant when reducing staff because of declining enrollment or program changes.

Under a "mutual consent" clause, displaced teachers who used to be assigned to new schools -- whether principals wanted them or not -- will no longer be guaranteed spots in the system and must find administrators willing to take them. Teachers with good evaluations who are unable to find a job have a year's grace period, at full pay, to continue the search. They can also opt for a $25,000 buyout or early retirement with full benefits if they have 20 or more years of service.

Both sides nevertheless expressed satisfaction with the final version of the accord.

"I am very pleased with the contract," Rhee said. "It strikes a great balance between making teachers understand that we very much value and support the work they do every day and on the administrative side giving us the tools we need to staff the schools effectively." Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker called it "a great day for teachers and students."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who shared negotiating responsibilities with Parker, was less effusive. She said she was pleased that after months of divisiveness, the two sides found common ground in "wanting teachers to be the best they could be" with provisions for increased professional development and classroom resources.

But the agreement reflects the top-down character of school governance in the District, where, she said, Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) do not recognize the importance of collaboration with teachers.

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