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WTU: Two votes, one fine mess

Now that District CFO Natwar M. Gandhi has certified the new labor contract as fiscally sound, it's up to Washington Teachers' Union members to ratify or reject the pact. Tentative plans (are there any other kind in this story?) call for a 15-day voting period to begin on May 19. Teachers will receive ballots by mail and have until June 2 to mail them back. To make sure everything is done on the square, the union has hired the American Arbitration Association to handle the balloting.

"It's going to be very political, and we don't want politics to get in the middle of the ratification," said WTU president George Parker.

It looks like there's plenty of room for politics in the other big upcoming union vote, the one for union president and other officers. Under WTU bylaws, the election is supposed to be held in May. But internal disputes are going to push the contest into June and, possibly, into court.

Get ready for a hike deep into the WTU weeds. The trip matters for a couple of reasons. First, there is a possibility that the election dispute could spill over into the ratification process. Second, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee will be working with the winner to implement the provisions of the contract that --if ratified--will mean huge changes in how teachers are paid and managed. It will diminish seniority rights and emphasize the importance of performance, as determined by a rigorous new evaluation system. Parker signed the deal and has pledged to see it through. One of his opponents, general vice president Nathan Saunders, has been an outspoken foe of Rhee and is opposed to ratification. A Saunders presidency could make it far more difficult to implement the contract.

For openers, it turns out that Parker did not submit the signed petitions required for re-nomination by the April 30 deadline specified in union rules. His opponents, Saunders and Elizabeth Davis, a teacher at Phelps Architecture Construction and Engineering High School, managed to meet the cut off. When Parker disclosed this awkward development to AFT president Randi Weingarten at a meeting on Monday, "she nearly fell off of her chair," according to Saunders, who was in the room.

On Wednesday Tina Flournoy, Weingarten's assistant for public policy, said the April 30 deadline was "no longer operative" because of problems with the composition of the WTU's elections committee, which is supposed to oversee contests for officers.

Bylaws call for the committee, which is itself supposed to be elected, to have 15 members. But last year, only five teachers even submitted nominating petitions to run. Another attempt to fill out the committee added two more, still short of a quorum. By this spring, retirements and layoffs had winnowed the committee to four members. One of them happens to be Saunders' wife, Chandrai Jackson-Saunders, a school psychologist.

Parker asked the union's executive board to fill out the panel with seven volunteers. Saunders complained to the AFT and the Department of Labor, asking the latter to come in and supervise the election. The department turned him down.

AFT opted to intervene, but not to address Saunders' main complaint, which was that Parker was improperly packing the elections committee. Saunders said it has historically been at less than full strength. Instead, AFT decided to completely reopen the nominating process for the elections committee. In an April 19 letter to Parker and Saunders, Weingarten said the weak showing of interest in serving on the committee "raises a substantial question as to the adequacy" of notice given to union members. Weingarten told teachers in a letter 10 days later that the AFT would be "monitoring and assisting" with the formation of a new elections committee.

According to a timetable described Wednesday by Flournoy, AFT hopes to have a new committee up and running by May 27. Parker will presumably submit petitions to the new panel, which will decide who is a legitimate candidate and who is not.

Saunders said he is preparing a lawsuit, calling AFT's intervention "a sham" designed to protect Parker's re-election.

"She's got to get this knucklehead on the ballot because he didn't file petitions," he said. He added that there can be no contract ratification without an elections committee because that panel is responsible for administering not only regular but "special" elections. That would include a contract vote.

Flournoy called Saunders' special election interpretation "a stretch." She also said that AFT's concern with the elections process predates the petition deadline. Its sole interest, she said, is in a democratic process, not in the outcome of the election.

"We invite anyone to look at this process up and down," she said. "We have no worries about the legitimacy of this process."

Parker said: "It's unfortunate that WTU elections are marred by distractions and personal attacks. This is a non-issue."

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By Bill Turque  |  May 13, 2010; 2:57 PM ET
 
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Comments

"For openers, it turns out that Parker did not submit the signed petitions required for re-nomination by the April 30 deadline specified in union rules. His opponents, Saunders and Elizabeth Davis, a teacher at Phelps Architecture Construction and Engineering High School, managed to meet the cut off. When Parker disclosed this awkward development to AFT president Randi Weingarten at a meeting on Monday, "she nearly fell off of her chair," according to Saunders, who was in the room"

Classy.
Does Parker teach in a classroom?

Posted by: edlharris | May 13, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

This would be hysterically funny, but for the fact that I actually have a child in this school system.

I feel so sorry for the teachers at my child's school. These educators struggle under tough conditions to provide the best for children each day. They are threatened and intimidated by Rhee and they are represented by a tool.

I predict an exodus of promising young and excellent veteran teachers from my child's school this year. And while we'll miss them terribly, I can't blame them. This is ridiculous.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | May 13, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Title1SoccerMom, for caring enough about your child's education to know what is going on. Like me, you have witnessed the incredibly hard work done by most teachers. Even without knowing anything about your child, I'll bet he or she is a high achiever.

You are smart enough to know that the best teachers in DC will leave as soon as they are able and new teachers will avoid the district like the plague.

Parents like you who partner with teachers, are the key to a quality education.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 13, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I think the teachers should vote this contract down. Better half a meal in freedom than a whole meal in slavery.

Posted by: jlp19 | May 13, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Linda. I am so supremely frustrated with our current Chancellor. I really supported her at first, but the past three years have been an unending disappointment. I am weary of her unending drama and wish she would just leave and let us get back to the hard work of urban education.

It was nice of you too to say you thought my child is high achieving. If you were to listen to Rhee, you would be convinced that my hard work at parenting has NOTHING to do with my child's academic success. It's insulting as a parent.

Finally this administration is so petty and vindictive, I'm afraid to speak out and bring down Rhee's wrath on our school.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | May 13, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Title1SoccerMom,

Now you know your child's achievement has nothing to do with you! Michelle Rhee says so, and she is God!

Posted by: jlp19 | May 13, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"Get ready for a hike deep into the WTU weeds. The trip matters for a couple of reasons."

Bill, you're getting punchy - but appropriately so. It's a pretty wild ride.

I can hardly wait for your book.

Posted by: efavorite | May 13, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

The latest actions of the AFT and George Parker clearly shows that Parker is in the pockets of Fenty and Rhee.

Parker does not give a da-- about the teachers in DC.

George was too stupid to file his petitions on time and now Randi the butt kisser in order to protect her reputation has step in and changed the rules.

Anyone willing to accept this should vote yes to the contract and start looking for a job.

Anyone will to accept this should vote to keep Fenty and Rhee and continue to be treated worse than slaves.

This whole situation is sickening and a disgrace. No matter what happens after the vote for the contract and presidential elections, George Parker will be remembered as the fool who destroyed public education in DC.

Posted by: fmurray200111 | May 13, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I think George is trying to tell us that he doesn't want to be the Union president anymore.

Posted by: efavorite | May 13, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Title1SoccerMom,

If there is one thing a teacher learns in her first few years of teaching, it is this: there is a HUGE correlation between parental involvement and the academic achievement of the child. There is a mountain of research to support this. Very few teachers or involved parents would disagree. In the simplest terms it means this: If your child is doing well in school, it's mainly because of you, the parent. If your child is not doing well, it is probably related to your parenting style. Of course there are exceptions, especially if the child has a disability. Yes, the teacher is important too but she is always in second place, except with her own children. She is the most important variable in the SCHOOL but you, the parent, are the most important variable in your child's total education. Go to the home of EVERY high achieving child, whether rich or poor, black or white and you will find an involved adult. My favorite books on this subject are "A Hope in the Unseen" by Ron Suskind and the biography of Vernon Jordan. Both these books show the unequaled influence of the parent. As you stated, it is an insult to suggest that a teacher can do the job of a parent. (Although many teachers try valiantly to do exactly that.)

People like Rhee and her cohorts are trying to wrest control of the schools from the citizens to which they belong. People like you can, and should, fight this shameful attempt to gain control of the schools for financial gain. Please gather other parents and citizens about you and fight this takeover of our public schools. Your freedom to educate your own child is at stake.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 13, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Linda. Well said, but one glaring gap in the logic. What do we do about the ineffective teacher? If you look on the usual ed. blogues and certainly in conversation, you can read/hear teachers refer to some noticeable (to them) portion of their colleagues who are ineffective/incompetent. I would agree that an alert parent may be the first person to really notice that, but what can be done about it, in your experienced view? And, given all the deserved weight on parental role, what are teachers responsible for (yes, during school hours)?

Posted by: axolotl | May 14, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Linda/Retired Teacher,

Please answer a few questions that I've asked more then a dozen times on the WaPo Education Board.

HOW is it possible, in the 21st Century, that some students are presently in high school multiple grade levels behind in language arts especially lacking in verbal and written communication skills?

HOW is it possible, in the 21st Century, that students are presently in high school multiple grade levels behind in Algebra let alone ill-prepared for advanced math?

HOW is it possible, in the 21st Century, that students, who have involved parents in their lives, ALMOST A QUARTER PERCENTILE of high school graduate are required to take remedial courses as they are ill-prepared for college level rigor?

Parents fault right???

Yes, because Parents are the ones that passed their children grade to grade without mastering skills by age/grade/curriculum.

Yes, it's the Parents fault that we are not professional educators who do not have BA/MA/PhD regarding academic instruction.

Yes, it's the Parents fault because although we are involved, we're making the mistake of wanting evidence, accountability and assurance that our children are EFFECTIVELY Educated provided by EFFECTIVE Educators.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | May 14, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

The parents are responsible for everything. The teacher has no influence.

Posted by: fredcorgi1 | May 14, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I think the WTU needs to look in the mirror the next time it accuses Rhee and DCPS of poor management, arcane bureaucracy and pure self serving behavior.

Posted by: nomayo | May 14, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I was just at a meeting where Rhee met with high-school teachers...and they greeted Rhee like she was a "rock star." This is at a school where the decade has not been too favorable. This is at a school where I have seen them frustrate the hiearchy of Janey's regime to the core. This is at a school where WTU even recognized the membership to be a hot-mess.

In the scheme of things...don't all teachers of 7-years or less, actually come and go? I am sensing that the tentative pay increase will have some stay a little longer.

Although we are in the reform model and budget-cuts are the cuss-words of the hour. I do recall when DCPS was regarded as the education toilet but the attendance at those teachers'fair were quite impressive.

Fret not I believe there's a majority who will stay and there's even more who will come to work for DCPS.

At this point I find WTU...to stand for What? The Union. Really you have Parker, Davis and Saunders (the folk-people of WTU)...they're the equivalent of Peter, Paul and Mary (the folk-singers of entertainment).

Posted by: PowerandPride | May 14, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

One way to deal with ineffective teachers is to hire effective administrators. Administrators who are true academic instructional leaders.

Since IMPACT is suppose to be the tool for dealing with ineffective teachers, this problem should soon disappear.

The individuals who wish to blame the failure of the school entirely on the teachers, I suggest you change careers and spend time in the schools. Rhee and the TFA will be glad to hire all you competent and effective individuals to help with her reform efforts.

Sadly, I agree that the WTU should look in the mirror. This organization is a disgrace.

Posted by: bnew100 | May 14, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

PGResident1,

You do realize that the teachers do not make the decisions about promotion. My school promotes EVERYONE regardless of skills/abilities. It looks bad for a student to repeat a grade. And we wouldn't want to look bad, would we??

Posted by: irishprincess122 | May 14, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Linda is absolutely correct regarding the role of parents, though I would use the word "expectations" rather than "involvement." It's a real challenge in many areas of the country where a high school education was seen as sufficient to convince kids, and their parents, that they need to do more if they are going to be successful. However, I'm not sure I follow the logic that absolves teachers from being able to make a difference beyond the role of parents. For those high achieving students with engaged parents, I am certain the quality of teaching is paramount and ineffective teachers will not be tolerated. For those children lacking the support they deserve from home or suffering from diminished expectations, saying teachers just can't overcome those challenges should not be the end of the story. Does it place a greater burden on the schools and the teachers, yes, but I'd rather have a Chancellor saying she believes every child has a chance at success, than one who throws her hands up and says, not my fault you have a bad situation at home.

Posted by: horacemann | May 14, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I want to make it clear that I too believe that every child,whether he has an involved parent or not, can succeed in school. What I am saying is this:

The child with the involved parents (and yes that includes expectations) has a much better chance at success than the one who does not. I am also saying that the parents are the primary educators of the child. After all, they are there during the critical first years of life. They come before teachers, in terms of time and quality of instruction. If they abdicate their responsibilities, others, including teachers, can step in, but that child's life chances are usually diminished.

Here is the Big Lie that Rhee and her cohorts are sharing with those who don't know:

If your child has untreated asthma, poor nutrition, poor behavior and watches TV from 3:00 to 11:00 pm every day, he will do just as well as the child who is cared for as long as he has an excellent teacher. Well, he probably will not.

Almost every educated parent, like SoccerMom, knows that providing a quality education requires a partnership between home and school. Let's share this information with everyone and then maybe we'll see some real change.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 14, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Linda, I'm glad you're retired because your anti-education ideas suck.

Posted by: bbcrock | May 14, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Linda, I'm glad you're retired because your anti-education ideas suck.

Suck on what, bb?

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | May 14, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

My "anti-education" ideas got my sons to Harvard and Stanford. One is now a scientist who invents devices to protect our servicemen. The other is a lawyer who works on behalf of the disenfranchised.

I just want every child to have the same chance at a first-rate education and that (almost always) requires parental involvement.

Do you disagree with that, bbcrock?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 14, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Horacemann - as you well know, those are not the only choices. It's not an either/or situation, as you are clearly intelligent enough to realize.

Let's see:
" I'd rather have a Chancellor saying she believes every child has a chance at success, than one who throws her hands up and says, it’s not my fault that:

“the achievement gap widened on my watch.”

“NAEP scores have been on the rise long before I got here.’

“The DC-CAS scores went down at Shaw despite an energetic new principal and an energetic inexperienced staff.”

“It took me almost 3 years to get a tentative agreement, and then I didn’t have money to fund it.”

The list goes on and on.

Posted by: efavorite | May 14, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

PowerandPride

Are you a member of the staff at this high school, a parent of a student or are you on Rhee's payroll?

Just how did you happen to be at this meeting. It has been my experience that when Rhee meets with teachers, she meets with the teachers without outsiders and/or administrators.

Posted by: bnew100 | May 14, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I will stick to the topic of this article.

I think that George Parker should not be eligible to run and Nathan and Elizabeth should sue. If they were able to get their documents in before the deadline then they should be the only people on the ballot. As a Union member I have a big problem with him being able to bypass the process and do his own thing. That reason alone should be the reason why no one should vote him back in to office. I do agree that the WTU is a mess and I know that George is not the person to fix the mess. Randi should do the right thing and let George know that he can not run this election. See if his new friends Rhee, and Fenty can get him a job because he would never last in the classroom under IMPACT.

Posted by: reneeinc | May 14, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Let's try to simplify this discussion. (And let's not continue to beat up the union; it is already unconscious.} I actually think most people on these boards agree parents have a big responsibility in education; how could they not? But we still hear the sound of just one hand clapping. Teachers seem ever so hesitant and silent on what their responsibility is. Even if their own kids went to Harvard and Stanford. (Congrats, but not really relevant here.) Parents and other citizens and taxpayers will understandably also be hesitant to hand out raises, performance bonuses and tolerate mediocrity or worse unless there is good or better performance. I agree that after the TA is ratified we will see a flood of teacher applications in DC, and I hope the hiring is real picky.

Posted by: axolotl | May 14, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

PowerandPride - do you think the teachers were being sincere?

Posted by: efavorite | May 15, 2010 6:52 AM | Report abuse

Based on this article it is clear that Parker and Rhee are really twins from different mothers.

Neither can manage their way out of a paper bag, neither believes they need to follow the same rules as everyone else, and each of them has someone in power who bails them out when their mistakes get them into those "deep weeds" Bill is writing about.

Posted by: kronberg | May 17, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

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