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D.C. reaches long-awaited deal with teachers union

The agreement includes a 12 percent raise over the next four years

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in August with State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant, left, and Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

After more than three years with out a contract, the District has reached a tentative agreement with its teachers union that would give the educators a retroactive raise and a salary hike for next year, officials announced Wednesday.

The agreement will furnish a 12 percent salary raise over four years. Teachers will also receive a 4 percent retention bonus, according to a statement from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee and Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

“The more than 5,000 DCPS educators represented in this agreement play an essential role in creating a loving, challenging and joyful school experience for thousands of young people across our city every single day,” the statement said. “Beyond pay and benefits, it was important for this agreement to reflect the respect the District has for teachers and the work they do for D.C.’s students.”

The agreement — which applies only to the city’s traditional public school teachers, who are represented by the WTU — comes after more than two challenging years of teaching through a pandemic and mounting frustration over retention. In a survey conducted by the union this fall, 4 out of 5 D.C. teachers said that they were unhappy with their jobs. Nearly half said they would probably leave their jobs in the next few years.

Survey shows low morale, frustration among D.C. teachers

“It’s been a struggle for three years,” Lyons said in an interview. She said the contract, if approved, will last through 2023, meaning the union will soon return to the bargaining table to hash out another agreement.

Lyons said she hopes the next contract can be settled faster than this one. “We are prepared to work hard to make sure we’re not in this same position again,” she said. “We want to get and keep great teachers, so we can’t continue on this path.”

Ferebee, in an interview, said he is proud of the agreement, which provides teachers with more planning time and raises the amount of money they receive to prepare their classrooms at the beginning of the year from $200 to $250.

“The ability for us to also express gratitude via retention bonuses also is something that I’m excited about,” the chancellor said. “I think this contract positions us well, with maintaining our status as one of the most competitive cities in the nation for teacher compensation.”

The agreement comes about a week after teachers staged demonstrations at several public schools. Wearing red, dozens of educators marched and held signs demanding a fair contact.

D.C. schools and teachers struggle to reach contract after 3 years

The union returned to a scheduled bargaining session last week in a last attempt to find common ground. If the two sides could not agree, negotiations would have gone through arbitration — meaning a third party would settle the contract and teachers would not be able to vote on it.

When Sean Perkins, a math teacher at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington, found out about the contract, he had one word: “Finally!”

Perkins, a member of the contract bargaining team, said the tentative agreement includes bonuses for teachers in hard-to-fill positions, including math, science and special education. It also retains teachers’ dental and vision benefits, which were at risk of getting pared back.

District reaches deal with union representing principals

The tentative agreement is three years in the making. The District’s last contract with its public school teachers went into effect in October 2016 and expired in October 2019.

Both sides had wanted to reach an agreement before the end of the last academic year, but they couldn’t make a deal in time. Ferebee previously said compensation was the sticking point, but union leaders said there were disagreements over how much time teachers are guaranteed to have to plan lessons and grade assignments.

The sides also had been negotiating separate agreements about how to reopen schools during the pandemic — a time consuming but necessary process, Ferebee said. “That time period was not spent on traditional contract negotiations, which may have gotten us to a contract earlier,” he said.

The starting salary for a first-year D.C. teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $56,000, but the average pay is around $92,000, union officials said. Teachers with an advanced degree and more than 21 years of experience can make up to $116,000.

The average starting salary for teachers nationwide was $41,770 during the 2020-2021 school year, according to the National Education Association.

Lyons said she plans to meet with members Tuesday to discuss the agreement. After that, they will vote and the contract would next go to the D.C. Council for approval. Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said Bowser’s intention is to get the tentative agreement in front of the council in December.

“I certainly want to make sure that happens,” Mendelson said. “I would say it’s the first step in the chancellor improving teacher morale.”

Other steps, Mendelson said, include setting up a working group to explore flexible scheduling for teachers and taking steps to improve IMPACT — the district’s teacher evaluation system, which an American University study found to be racially biased. Ferebee said that IMPACT is not addressed in the tentative contract but that the district is making adjustments.