D.C. Contract Headed to Arbitration?

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 02, 2008 2 min read
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Like sands through the hourglass, so continues the soap opera of the D.C. teacher-contract negotiations.

The contract hinges on a “red"/"green” tier proposal that would give green-tier teachers the opportunity to earn $20,000 annually in performance bonuses, contingent on their forgoing tenure for a year. The red tier resembles the traditional system of salary boosts. The contract also would formally dismantle seniority for teacher hiring and transfers.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, evidently tired of the stalemate between her district and the Washington Teachers Union, announced this morning her plans to move forward with an alternate “Plan B” for teacher-quality improvements.

It will involve the creation of a new performance-evaluation system based primarily on student achievement; implementation of a 90-day plan to remove ineffective teachers; and a move to bypass the senority system through a series of laws that allows the district to make staffing adjustments based on factors other than length of service.

“We cannot waste any more time in our quest to ensure superior educators in every classroom,” Rhee said in a statement.

I spoke to George Parker about these developments. He wasn’t thrilled, saying that Ms. Rhee’s rhetoric feeds into the fears that the district’s teacher force already harbors: that she wants to fire teachers.

The breaking point continues to be the issue of tenure under the green-tier proposal. Parker has long argued for an appeals process for those teachers who opt for the green tier and are not granted tenure. He said both he and Rhee have laid out proposals for an appeals process but couldn’t compromise on the details.

Now, Mr. Parker said, he wants the tenure issue off the table altogether.

“I think it is important that we come to a realization that the concept of performance and incentive pay offered by the green tier is separate and apart from everything to do with tenure and seniority,” he told me. “What does giving up tenure have to do with your performance?”

It’s not fair, he added, that veteran teachers who may be effective wouldn’t have the chance to earn the bonuses unless they put their jobs at risk.

Though neither side has yet declared an impasse, it’s a good bet that the contract will go to arbitration next.

In the meantime, under D.C. rules, Rhee can set the evaluation procedure on her own. But that proposal goes through “impact bargaining” with WTU, which can object and send it to an arbitrator to decide.

My head is spinning.

Don’t change that dial - we’ll bring you more soon.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.