DC Teachers contract settled
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union have reached tentative agreement on a new contract, ending more than two years of closely watched and often-rancorous negotiations, union and District officials said Tuesday.
The proposed pact, which must be ratified by union members and approved by the D.C. Council, provides teacher salary increases of more than a 20 percent over five years, with much of it to be paid for through an unusual arrangement with a group of private foundations that have pledged to donate $65 million.
The deal gives Rhee some of the tools she said she needed to raise the quality of teaching and learning in schools long ranked as among the nation's worst, but perhaps more importantly it brings her labor peace as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty he heads into an election-year battle with Council Chairman Vincent Gray and perhaps another candidate. The negotiations also have been viewed as a test of the strength of both union forces and reform advocates pushing for aggressive revamping of the nation's schools.
"It took a lot of courage to get here," Rhee said in an interview. "We really have done something that frames evertything around performance for kids and making that the really core tenet of the agreement."
The changes in the contract include a merit-pay program that will allow teachers to earn annual bonuses for the improvement of student performance on standardized tests and other measures of academic success. The pact, if approved, will also afford Rhee and her school principals more latitude in deciding which teachers to retain in the event that budget cuts or enrollment declines force the closure of some schools.
But the 103-page agreement is significantly different from Rhee's original vision for a collective bargaining agreement, which she promised would "revolutionize education as we know it" when she first developed it in 2008.
"We really hit on something that can move kids forward," said teacher's union President George Parker.
The deal first was reported by the City Paper's Web site.
Rhee garnered national attention from school reform advocates with a two-tiered salary proposal that offered experienced educators a chance to make as much as $130,000 annually in salary and performance bonuses. The plan required teachers who aspired to the top pay range to give up tenure protections for a year, essentially exposing them to dismissal without appeal.
Rhee's effort to weaken tenure protections, which she called the "holy grail" of teachers unions, won her rock stardom from segments of the educational reform commnity that regard teachers' unions as the main impediment to improving public education.
It also helped win her what she said was $200 million in funding commitments from private foundations. But it touched off a furor among District teachers and union leaders, and languished at the bargaining table.
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