Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Michelle Rhee: Teacher Contract Would End Seniority

Teacher Contract Would End Seniority
Union Is Reviewing Proposal From Rhee

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; B02

The Washington Teachers' Union is discussing a proposed three-year contract
from the school system that would eliminate seniority, giving Schools
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee
e> more control in filling vacancies, a union member familiar with the
talks said yesterday.

Without seniority, Rhee could place teachers based on qualifications or
performance rather than years of service, said the union member, who spoke
on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. The union
member said Rhee sought the provision as a recruiting tool so she could
offer talented candidates the position of their choice. She would be able to
fill positions with less experienced teachers.

Under the proposed contract, teachers would give up seniority in exchange
for annual raises of about 6 percent, more personal-leave days and more
money for supplies, the union member said. In the last contract, which
expired in the fall, teachers received a 10 percent raise over two years.

Rhee "does want to infuse some new blood [into the schools]. She wants to
make it attractive for young people coming in to advance," said the union
member, adding that the union's negotiating team will meet with her tomorrow
or Friday. "We've come to realize we're going to have to give in to her."

The union member said Rhee had also wanted to eliminate tenure, subjecting
teachers to dismissal without cause. In March, Rhee fired 98 central office
employees after the D.C. Council
Columbia?tid=informline> gave her the authority to make several hundred of
them "at-will" staff members.

At a conference yesterday sponsored by the NewSchools Venture Fund, which
backs charter schools, Rhee said during a discussion that she expects the
new teachers' contract to be settled soon. In her remarks, she said the
contract would "revolutionize education as we know it." She declined to
discuss details after the meeting.

Union President George Parker
e> said in an interview that "seniority definitely is one of the difficult
issues at the table." Responding to Rhee's comment, he said, "In terms of
revolutionizing education, I'm not sure I see anything at this point that
will revolutionize education."

About the tenure issue, Parker said, "I don't believe in at-will status for
any employee."

The proposal would have to be approved by the union's negotiating team
before being submitted to the full membership.

Under the current contract, teachers get seniority after two years. With
tenure, if they lose their job, they can apply for positions at other
schools in the system. Tenured teachers can be fired only for cause, such as
receiving a poor evaluation or committing an act that subjects them to

Rhee has talked about offering "differentiated compensation" for teachers --
basing raises on factors such as improved student test scores rather than
years of service. This year, she gave bonuses to teachers at Barnard
Elementary School in Northwest Washington, where students made significant
gains on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System. She said she hoped that
would set an example.

But the union member said the compensation issue is "not on the table" now.
"It will take some work before she can bring that in.

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