The D.C. financial control board gave preliminary approval yesterday to a labor contract that would link some raises for D.C. teachers to their job performance, deny raises to teachers who receive poor evaluations and permit the firing of teachers who fail to improve.
The contract -- the first for city teachers since 1993 -- includes a 4.5 percent pay raise that would be retroactive to October, making teacher pay in the District comparable to that in the suburbs for the first time in decades, and additional increases totaling 6.5 percent during the next two fiscal years.
Starting teachers would make $30,000 this year, and the average salary would grow from $46,000 to $48,000. The cost of the increases in the base salary would total $27.3 million over three years.
The contract, which now goes to the D.C. Council for approval and then must be reaffirmed by the control board in a public vote, promises additional raises of 1.5 percent next fiscal year and 2 percent in fiscal 2001 to teachers who meet a set of performance goals currently being negotiated by school and union officials.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said the goals likely will include national board certification -- which only two D.C. teachers hold currently -- and also could include improved student test scores or participation on school system committees.
"I'm really excited about the possibilities," Ackerman said. "There's no longer this automatic, everybody will get the same raise. We're moving it to a different level that really focuses on improving the quality of instruction and improving the quality of our teaching."
Only a handful of school systems in the country are using performance-based raises. In the Washington area, Prince George's County and Alexandria are considering the idea, but the District would be the first to adopt it if the contract is given final approval. Montgomery and Howard counties give bonuses to teachers who complete the rigorous process of national teacher certification.
Teachers union President Barbara Bullock could not be reached yesterday. But in a recent interview, she called the long-delayed contract "damn good."
Bullock balked at the idea of basing additional raises on student test scores, however, saying teachers should be able to earn the money by taking courses or assuming extra responsibilities in school. She and Ackerman are leading the committee that will decide the criteria for the raises.
"Every teacher will know what they have to do in order to get this performance incentive award," Bullock said.
Plans to give teachers raises based on performance often have fizzled in other jurisdictions because of funding difficulties or questions over how to decide who deserves the extra money, said Kathy Christie, a policy analyst with the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
"It has to be so well thought out," she said. "And it has to be funded over time."
One of the most successful initiatives, according to Christie, has been in Douglas County, Colo. That district gives raises to teachers whose skills improve but denies them to those whose job evaluations are poor.
Although most discussion of the new contract has focused on teacher raises, the three-year pact also contains tough sanctions for poor teachers. Those whose overall job rating is "needs improvement" would be denied step raises, the contract says, and could be fired the next year if "there is not significant improvement or reasonable expectation that skillful performance on all standards can be achieved."
Ackerman said she hoped the contract would be approved quickly so teachers -- who received their last raise in 1997 -- could get their retroactive increases shortly after the end of the school year.
Negotiations on the contract dragged on for much of this decade while turmoil engulfed the top echelons of the school system, leading to the ouster of one superintendent and the resignation of another. The school's chief negotiator was replaced six times, and teachers left the District in droves for higher pay and better working conditions in the suburbs.
Teachers initially refused to ratify the contract after it was proposed by schools and union officials earlier this spring. But Bullock won approval for it in a mail ballot, which was unsuccessfully challenged by some of her opponents within the union.
The school system's emergency trustee board was set to approve the contract last month, but decided not to vote on it because of legal questions about its authority. It passed the contract to the control board, which took over the schools in 1996 and must sign off on all city labor agreements. The board in an executive session yesterday decided to give the contract preliminary approval and then let the council review it before a final board vote.
The contract provides extra cash awards -- to be used for supplies, technology, equipment or staff training -- to schools based on improved student achievement, learning climate, safety and other factors. It also lengthens planning periods for elementary teachers from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.