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Probation "A Deal Breaker," Union Source Says

Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) President George Parker stopped just short yesterday of completely rejecting Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's proposal that tenured teachers must spend a year on probation to become eligible for huge salary hikes and performance bonuses.

But a union source with direct knowledge of contract talks between the teachers and the city tells the D.C. Wire that Parker considers the provision "a deal breaker." Moreover, the source said, Parker told Rhee as much at a May 28 meeting.

"He said it from the outset," said the source, who asked not to be named because of concern that Rhee might try to retaliate.

According to the source, Rhee was pushing Parker to wrap up a contract agreement before the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention, scheduled to begin in Chicago on July 10. Rhee was concerned that if he arrived in Chicago with the contract not completed, he would be pressured by union officials to back off of the pay package.

"So she [Rhee] goes, 'We've got to get this thing done before you go to the convention. There's no way you can go to the AFT convention and have all these people weigh in.'"

But Parker resisted, the source said.

This account sheds some new light on his relationship with Rhee, which some union members and leaders have depicted as inappropriately chummy. Rhee has reinforced this image by offering lavish praise of Parker, describing him as a close collaborator on a contract that she has effectively described as a done deal.

"So we've got the leadership and we have a great union leader," she told PBS' Charlie Rose in a July 14 interview. "This man, George Parker, he wants to do the right thing for kids. He wants to do the right thing for his teachers, and we believe that this contract that we put together, it does exactly that."

Nathan Saunders, the WTU's general vice president and the most outspoken critic of Parker's leadership, said yesterday that many teachers were bewildered about exactly where Parker stood relative to Rhee.

"There appears to be such a level of cooperation that teachers don't know who's trying to legitimately help them and who's not," he said.

Parker would not comment on his private discussions with Rhee, but added that he would never damage teachers' interests in contract talks.

"My general vice president would not know what I'm saying with her," he said. "The union is flexible on those things needed to improve the quality of education, but not willing to be flexible on the things that are not needed."

Requiring experienced teachers to revert to probationary status and expose themselves to possible firing serves no educational purpose, Parker said.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  August 8, 2008; 11:06 AM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Historically, Korean-Americans have been very anti union, have in the DC area engaged in union busting activities and Ms. Rhee is living up to the expectations of a Korean America business minded person.

Posted by: Jonathan Rees | August 8, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I'm not quite sure what to make of that comment. Quite possibly true, but not particularly relevant. The teachers' union isn't negotiating with the Korean-American business community.

Posted by: Bob S. | August 8, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Right, so Chancellor Rhee is going to bust the union by . . . hmmm, let's see: negotiating with it! Then she's going to call the head of the union a visionary. Yeah, that's it! And then she's going to offer union members salaries 30% higher than what their getting now.

What's her next step in this union-busting attempt -- becoming a union member herself?

Posted by: Creech | August 8, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Bob S,

I hear you but I am talking about a general mind-set that Korean American from California to New York are noted for; namely, anti union sentiments whether they own a business, work for one, are in politics and this behavior seems to come out in Korean Americans dealing in labor issues!

Posted by: Jonathan Rees | August 8, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse


The name of the game with the Fenty Administration is to create as many loopholes to fire, deny promotions and so on. Smell the coffee burning. Lok at the union busting police contract on the table.

Fenty is the most anti union Democrat in the history of DC and that is because he is being told what to do by that registered Virginia Republican Peter Nickles.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Got no problem with being anti-union when the union is preventing good teachers to keep their jobs and the firing of imcompetent teachers.

Posted by: 761-091 | August 8, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't get it - one year of probation for a massive pay increase sounds pretty fair to me. If teachers want to earn decent salaries, there needs to be a system in place to hold them accountable for their quality of work.

Posted by: Herndon | August 8, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

She inherited a system filled with teachers that don't teach well. I can understand why she wants some accountability. Her plans gives her the best option of motivating teachers to do well and gives the taxpayers the accountability of removing the dead wood.

Posted by: Jim | August 8, 2008 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I challenge each and every one of you to revert back to a probationary status. Even private sector folks have a probationary period, though they can be fired at any time. Imagine working some place 5-10-15 years and having to go back to probationary status. Realize they just fired your boss, who by their own stats had an improving/performing track record based on the prior Administration's (Janey) new program. you're now a no questions asked at-will employee. You wouldn't want to play with your job/career like that either. folks need to grow up all of the problems of DCPS cannot be placed on poor teachers.

Posted by: RobGreg | August 8, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

This is extremely generous, most of the private sector works on "at-will" basis. That means they're always on probationary status and can be fired if they consistently underperform at their jobs.

It looks like the only teachers with something to fear are those who neglect their students.

Speaking of which, I need to get back to work.

Posted by: Scott S | August 8, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Most of the private sector does work 'at will'. Who ever thinks that having a manager that knows you is some form of protection needs to get their head into today's economy. I support the concept of tenure at a research university so an independent body of work can be developed without fear or influence but if an incentive-based system is implemented then what exactly is the need to job protection for elementary and primary teachers?

Posted by: ABethesda | August 8, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Maybe pay-for-performance is a good idea, and I've worked places where that applied, but...

Would you agree to pay for performance when no one has explained what the performance criteria would be, and the head of of the company has fired people without bothering to explain why, or even give people job descriptions?

Now would you agree to give up seniority and job protection to go on probation for and increased salary based on money that may never materialize, and even if it does the first year, may not continue in the out years?

even if you agree with pay-for-performance, agreeing to this is still crazy.

Posted by: Mary in DC | August 8, 2008 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I support Ms. Rhee 100%. My kid was in a school last year where the teachers with seniority and tenure were terrified by any proposal for change. Oh and ghee whiz the school is now in restructuring under NCLB go figure! Change is scary but inevitable and also for the most part good for all. I look at change as an opportunity for growth but far too many DCPS teachers do not and have no desire to grow. I feel for those who do a great job, grow professionally, get frustrated and teach elsewhere. We need to keep these energetic professionals whom have been voicing support for the new contract. If one does not perform up to the standard of the position then they should not have job security. My private sector boss would fire me in a heartbeat if I repeated missed deadlines, goals and was opposed to change.

Posted by: DCPS parent | August 8, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I an a private industry Instructor which is not the same as DCPS Teacher; however I wound up with students who have completed high School and DC and I must admit that their literacy is deplorable. I fully support performance based productivity. DCPS are churning out too many unprepared people for today's work world. Teacher have a moral duty to address their student's basic literacy. Also, I must add that more need to be done to make it mandatory for parents, guardians or care takers of these students to assist the teachers in getting their children educationally better prepared for the 21st century marketplace.

Posted by: DoM` | August 8, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

People still aren't getting that the red plan fully protects teacher tenure. It is just blatant misinformation to say the new contract requires teachers to go on probation for a year - only the green plan does that.

Bill, you are killing me here. Why can't you say that Parker is upset that one of the options for teachers involves giving up tenure for one year, while the other plan retains full tenure rights?

Posted by: | August 8, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm an at-will employee, so I can be let go at any moment without cause, probation or not. That's part of life in my industry (IT). Work hard, get paid reasonably well, but be at permanent risk of lay-offs, downsizing, whatever.

I can't think of any good reason for public school teachers to be tenured. A principal is no more prone to political or personal grudges than any manager in the private sector. If principals and department heads don't have a grasp of how well a teacher is performing, then their own job status needs to be re-evaluated.

Posted by: Herndon | August 8, 2008 10:12 PM | Report abuse

As a former teacher in DCPS, I would never, ever give up my tenure until I was assured that our principals were fair-minded individuals, who WOULDN'T fire folks arbitrarily or capriciously. That still happens folks; good teachers ARE at risk...we don't have enough proven administrators for teachers to feel safe about giving up due process, no matter how new they are.

Granted, we need to fix a broken evaluation system...principals can fire teachers RIGHT NOW...if they chose to. Let's make the system WORK for EVERYONE; that's when it will also work for our kids.

Posted by: FormerTeach | August 9, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

The key to this is having good, strong principals in schools who are not, as the above poster mentioned, capricious and petty. With fair principals in place who are objective and don't play favorites, teachers will have faith that their jobs aren't on the line for trivial reasons. I believe Rhee is in the process of doing this. But what I have seen in my years is DCPS is principals riding teachers for justifiable reasons. Like habitually coming in late, sneaking out early, consistently not reporting to a duty post, late or poorly written (now it must be computer generated) work, not teaching or supervising students, reading the newspaper in class and other actions that illustrate poor performance. And claiming the principals are targetting them because they're union activitists? What a lie that is.

Posted by: Sasha | August 9, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Please join this facebook group if you support this contract proposal. We are trying to prevent the contract being killed by Tuesday. Your immediate action is needed!

Posted by: | August 10, 2008 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't that union disbanded after the leaders were found pilfering the dough? Why are we dealing with these people, for god's sake!

Posted by: DC Resident and Taxpayer | August 10, 2008 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Chancellor Rhee who was never a certified principal or certified as teacher, is now protecting the new TFA and Fellows teachers who have less than 2 years experience. These rookie teachers have yet to demostrate that they qualified for such salaries. This contract is a BIG SHAM!

Posted by: Lexus | August 11, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Lexus, the TFA and DCT Fellows won't get the big bucks under the proposed new contract unless their students demonstrate increased student achievement. Whether or not they have experience is not the point. Results are. They will be qualified for such salaries, as you say, if their students perform. The same for veteran teachers. The key to all this is student achievement, a topic on which the WTU has been silent over the years. It's about what we, as educators, do for students.

Posted by: Sasha | August 11, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Why all this hating on rookie teachers, be they Teach For America, DC Teaching Fellows or fresh out of ed school grads? They need all the help and support they can get, both from fellow teachers in their schools, principals and others. These individuals are some of the strongest believers in our students. I used to know some TFA teachers in my school who would stay to 6:00 every day, tutoring, working with kids, lesson planning, when the teacher work day ends at 3:30 and I'd leave out. They would take kids to museums on Saturday, go get them library cards, create class websites and do stuff to put those of us veteran teachers to shame by their commitment and enthusiasm. Sure, some wouldn't stay in the field for twenty years, but still. They taught their kids and demonstrated strong student achievement. We teachers need to support them if they're in our schools and see them as assets and allies.

Posted by: Chloe | August 11, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I agree with DCTeacherChic that there's a lot of confusion on the contract.

1. If you want to keep tenure, choose RED and you get a pay big raise without probation.

2. If you want to be eligible for additional bonuses, choose GREEN and be willing to be on probation for a year.

Any teacher can CHOOSE the option best for them. No one is forcing teachers to give up tenure. I'm not sure why that isn't coming through in the WashingtonPost articles.

Posted by: anotherformerteacher | August 12, 2008 8:40 PM | Report abuse

George Parker has done an excellent job of misinforming teacher's. When fact's start appearing lets see how many teachers want to agree. No self respecting union leader in the country would have created a deal like this. Pay close attention to "excessing."

Posted by: informed | August 14, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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