Teachers in D.C. public schools will welcome a new chancellor in February. But before that happens, the Washington Teachers’ Union and the school system want to settle a years-long dispute over teachers’ pay.
More than 3,500 teachers in the District’s public schools have not received a base-level raise since 2012 because they have been working without a union contract. The union and school system’s administrators have engaged in often-tense negotiations for years but have not been able to reach an agreement.
But Elizabeth Davis, the union president, said that may soon change because everyone at the negotiating table wants a new contract before Antwan Wilson takes over the school system on Feb. 1.
“The mayor and I both agree that this is not something we want to hand off to a new chancellor coming in,” Davis said.
“It would not look good for her and her school system to do that.”
The office of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not respond to requests seeking comment.
Davis said the union and the school system have tentatively agreed on the language of the contract but have not agreed on raises for teachers.
Davis and the school system declined to detail the pay increases being considered because it is against policy to talk about what happens in negotiations.
In May, the teachers union asked for retroactive pay raises and a “significant” pay hike. At the time, Davis said the school system was offering a 1 percent raise starting in two academic years, which she called “insulting.”
Many teachers in the District’s public schools have received performance bonuses, and teachers can meet higher income thresholds after they have worked in the system for a certain number of years or increase their level of education.
Michelle Lerner, a schools spokeswoman, said the D.C. system is not using Wilson’s first day on the job as a deadline, because settling the contract “is a priority, and has been a priority, for a long time.”
“We want a new contract, and we have been wanting one for the last two to three years,” Lerner said.
The school system’s negotiations team, led by interim chancellor John Davis, has “spent a significant amount of time with the WTU over the last several months working on the contract,” Lerner said.
Lerner said the school system has the highest first-year teacher salary in the country — $51,500.
Teachers are also eligible to earn up to $20,000 in bonuses every year if they are deemed highly effective, the top rating in the school district’s evaluation system.
Davis criticized the school system for touting those figures because they do not account for how expensive it is to live in the District. She added that there are many teachers who have one or two side jobs to make ends meet.
“They say, ‘We value our teachers — they are the ones in our classrooms,’ and yet you want to ignore the fact that teachers are living in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the country,” Davis said.
If the union and the school system don’t reach an agreement by Feb. 1, it will fall on Wilson to continue negotiations.
He is finishing up his time as superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District and has said a new contract will be a top priority.
During the confirmation process, Wilson touted his negotiation of a contract with Oakland’s teachers that gave them their largest pay increase in more than 10 years.
Davis is confident that the union can negotiate a new contract with Wilson, but she remains hopeful that it can be settled before February.
“We are closer than we thought,” Davis said.