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WTU Board Turns Up Heat on Parker

Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) president George Parker was censured by his executive board this week, the latest reflection of unhappiness with his leadership in the contentious contract talks with the D.C. school system.

Union sources said a resolution, passed by a 9-4 vote Thursday night, accused Parker of failing to keep the board informed about negotiations with DCPS, and of providing no documentation of exactly what has been proposed at the table. Parker was also accused of improperly canceling board meetings.

"The resulting state of the WTU is one of membership confusion on contract negotiations, contract compliance and job security," said the resolution, drafted by Parker's chief internal antagonist, general vice president Nathan Saunders. The measure also directed the union's attorney "to take the strongest legal action against President George Parker if the same behavior continues.

"We've put George on the 90-day plan," Saunders said, referring to a provision in school system personnel rules that allow administrators to give teachers three months to improve their performance or face dismissal. Saunders said the documentation issue is especially serious because it may impede the union's ability to declare an impasse and take the matter to mediation.

Bill Turque

Parker dismissed the move as an empty political gesture by Saunders.

"It ain't worth the paper it's printed on," he said. "It's another one of Nathan's little ploys."

Parker disputed the idea that he hasn't kept union members informed. He added that the executive board has overstepped its authority under the WTU constitution. It is the union's representative assembly--consisting of at least one teacher from each school--that wields the real influence.

This is not the most severe sanction the group could have sought. It could have passed a vote of no confidence, or directed the union's attorney to sue Parker for misconduct. Moreover, eight members of the 22-member board were absent, leaving the panel with barely a quorum.

And support for Saunders is not exactly rock-solid either. Sources said there was an unsuccessful motion to amend the resolution to express unhappiness with his leadership as well.

Still, it's another sign of the deep schism among leaders and rank-and-file over Chancellor Michelle Rhee's contract proposal, which offers big salary increases in exchange for a weakening of tenure protections for teachers. A largely--but not exclusively-- younger wing of the membership is furious with Parker for not allowing Rhee's plan to come to a vote. A more seasoned camp of teachers is opposed to any contract that would weaken job security.

Rhee said she has secured $200 million in private foundation funding to pay for the first five years of raises--which are contingent on union acceptance of the tenure rollback.

The labor dispute surfaced Thursday during Rhee's D.C. Council appearance, when Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) put Rhee on notice that DCPS would not be immune to spending cuts if District finances continued to deteriorate. He added that if the contract had been settled a few months ago, the District would have been on the hook legally to give teachers a pay hike retroactive to last year. Now, there's nothing in the District's wallet.

"The reality is they may have missed the bus," Catania said. "The union's strategy has done them a disservice."

Catania also urged Rhee and the teachers resolve their differences, saying he did not want a repeat of the 1993 teacher "sick out" and other labor problems.
"We cannot afford to drag this out," he said. "You sew the seeds of bad faith with a prolonged dispute."

By Marcia Davis  |  November 1, 2008; 8:29 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
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I would be really, really helpful to have more information on the members of the union Board. Who are they? Who voted which way? Which ones are likely to support school reform and which not? A summary of what is known about the contract so far. To see something that is closer to investigative reporting.

Posted by: sharon14 | November 1, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Maybe it's time for the younger teacher to say to Hell with the Union, which obviously isn't interested in better teachers or better schools. They should be going to the Chancellor's office and saying that they're ready and willing to sign on to the new pay plan as individuals - collective bargaining be damned. The only thing the Teacher's Union cares about is itself, and maybe it's an idea whose time has long past. Its leadership certainly is a relic of the past.

Posted by: BethesdaDad | November 1, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

BethesdaDad: The problem, as I understand it, is that the existing contract forbids DCPS from negotiating with anyone else, including individuals. That means that while you don't have to be in the union, you do have to accept the contract terms it works out with the city. It also makes the union the de facto representative of all teachers, regardless of their union membership or not.

Posted by: risenc | November 1, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm a DCPS teacher, and not a young one either. I wish I could say to h@ll with the union, go straight to Rhee and sign on for the new contract, the one many of my colleagues and contemporaries are so against. And to hear that we blew the retro money part of the raise, in today's economy, p*sses me off. I'm a competent teacher with proven gains in student achievement who would have welcomed the new contract.

Posted by: chelita | November 1, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Teachers better think good and hard before they even contemplate a ridiculous, suicidal strike, work to the rule or other labor action. Parents and the public are not behind us. They will pull their kids out, put them in one of the local charter schools, which are practically on every corner in some neighborhoods, and DCPS teachers will be left with even more half empty schools. Which will mean even further teacher cuts.

Posted by: chelita | November 1, 2008 6:46 PM | Report abuse


If you're such a "competent teacher with proven gains in student achievement," why all the scare tactics? Halloween was yesterday. Save it for the children.

Posted by: schooletal | November 1, 2008 10:55 PM | Report abuse

What scare tactics? If you're referring to the idea that teachers considering any labor actions should better think twice, because parents will probably vote with their feet and pull their kids out of DCPS? Isn't it obvious? DCPS teachers striking and closing down schools would be shooting themselves in the foot. Isn't it obvious? We as teachers are supposed to teach kids how to think. Wouls such an action show thinking and good judgment?

Posted by: chelita | November 2, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

School Reform in the District requires the expertise of a seasoned transformational executive leader. Michelle Rhee, has demonstrated that this is exactly what she is not. Her whole approach is about creating wedges and being dismissive to those she depends on the most in getting reform accomplished. (i.e. the parents of the children in the syste, the District Council, etc.).

She has forced all parties to their corners, everyone has positioned themselves for a fight and nobody is willing to give one iota. That is because her approach placed people on the defensive as opposed to creating an environment of legitimate all-inclusive reform.

We may never know if the Chancellor, or shall I say, her predessors plan will ever work. Because she forgot ignored the basic rules governing how to influence people.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | November 3, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

concernedaboutDC is right. Michelle Rhee's intentions may be good, but her botched implementation is going to cause her efforts to fail, again. Sadly. DC (and especially it's students) deserve better.

Posted by: citizenw | November 4, 2008 4:15 PM | Report abuse

After seeing how DCPS works on the inside, with its entrenched attitude of entitlement, my impression is that people were *already* on the defensive when Rhee got here. The wedges I see are created by the union, which disdainfully treats new employees like scabs, and some staffmembers who wouldn't know a full day's work if it rose up and bit 'em in the a$$, but they know enough to protect the sweet deal they have: doing very little while being virtually unemployable elsewhere.

Posted by: kelly5612 | November 4, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

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