The winding road toward D.C. schools deal

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union have reached tentative agreement on a new contract. A look at the often-rancorous negotiations:
June 12: Michelle A. Rhee, the founder of a teacher-training non profit organization who believes that education reform is blocked by union contracts that make it difficult to fire ineffective instructors, is named chancellor of the D.C. public schools (DCPS) by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

Sept. 30: Three-year collective bargaining agreement between DCPS and Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) expires but remains in force until new agreement is reached.

December: Negotiations begin.

May 20: Rhee tells conference of charter school supporters that she expects contract to be settled soon. Says it will "revolutionize education as we know it."

July 22: Rhee unveils two-tier proposal that would boost teacher pay to unprecedented levels. Educators with five years' experience could earn as much as $100,000 in salary and performance bonuses. Much of money for "red-green" plan to be supplied by private foundations. Teachers seeking top pay scale would have to give up tenure protections for a year, exposing them to dismissal.

Aug. 7: WTU President George Parker all but rules out union acceptance of Rhee's plan, citing provision that teachers spend a year on probation in exchange for big pay increases and bonuses. Rhee spokeswoman Mafara Hobson says: "We're confident things will be resolved by the beginning of school."

Aug. 22: At school-year kickoff rally at Washington Convention Center, Parker asks for show of hands on salary plan. Teacher sentiment runs about 2 to 1 against.

Oct. 2: Responding to lack of progress in negotiations, Rhee invokes rules allowing her to give poor-performing teachers 90 days to improve or face dismissal.

Oct. 8: In letter to New York Times, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten calls Rhee's salary plan one Rhee "intends to impose upon teachers, not one she hopes to develop with teachers."

October: Rhee releases five-year plan that calls overall quality of District teachers "unacceptably low" and says system will "identify and transition out a significant share" of educators over the next two years.

Nov. 17: Rhee and Weingarten agree to meet, signaling the increasing involvement of AFT, WTU's parent organization, in nationally significant talks. In her first major policy speech as AFT president, she says her union can be a force for reform and that "no issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair for teachers."

Nov. 29: Rhee appears on cover of Time with a broomstick to emphasize her reform image. It causes furor among District teachers and some elected officials, who find the symbolism provocative and insulting.

Feb. 1: AFT and WTU present Rhee with contract proposal that includes creation of "improvement zone" for low-performing schools, where student achievement would be raised by reducing class sizes, focusing on language and literacy, and granting an unusual autonomy to teachers and administrators.

Feb. 9: Rhee tries to mend fences with teachers in Post op-ed: "The situation for our city's children is dire. Yet while I acknowledge the seriousness of the work we face, I want to be clear about something: I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels."

April 15: Both sides agree to bring in Kurt L. Schmoke, dean of Howard University School of Law and former three-term mayor of Baltimore, to mediate contract talks.

April 21: Weingarten says in letter to Post that Rhee can afford to pay enormous proposed teacher salaries after private foundation money is exhausted only by moving out older teachers and hiring lower-paid, less-experienced instructors.

May 7: Rhee calls Weingarten's claim "just a lie."

September: Sides near an agreement that would drop the two-tier plan, preserve tenure but still give Rhee more power to remove teachers deemed ineffective. Parker says chances of actually closing a deal are still no better than 50-50.

Oct. 2: Talks frozen after Rhee announces layoffs of more than 260 teachers to help close what she describes as a $43.9 million gap in 2010 budget.

Nov. 24: D.C. Superior Court judge upholds the teacher layoffs, rejecting union arguments that Rhee contrived financial problems to rid system of older instructors.

March 24: Parker tells members he hopes to have tentative agreement ready for review after spring break on April 6, after spring break.

April 7: District, WTU and AFT announce tentative agreement on a contract.

SOURCES: Staff reports; CREDITS: Bill Turque, Bill Webster and Sisi Wei - The Washington Post, April 7, 2010.
© The Washington Post Company