While D.C. & Teachers Spar, MoCo Wins Quite A Deal
The contrast could hardly be more stark: As D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee ratchets up the rhetoric in her battle to break the District's teachers union and force a merit pay plan on the city's classroom instructors, Montgomery County last week announced that its public schools have reached a deal in which the county 22,000 teachers and other school staffers will forgo a promised 5 percent pay raise so the schools can try to muddle through the financial crisis without increasing class size or sacking teachers.
Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast, speaking on today's edition of Raw Fisher Radio (the show streams at noon today and will be available all week here on the big web site), didn't want to comment on the comparison between his methods and those of his colleague in the District. But Weast said he was able to cut a deal with the union because he has worked closely with union leaders for a decade, raising academic standards and providing less than successful teachers with extensive training and support to bring them up to par.
"If you treat people like you want to be treated," you will get better work from them than if you blame them for failure, Weast said.
Montgomery County Education Association president Bonnie Cullison put it more bluntly: "You cannot make it happen in a district where you set up conflict." The union chief said that in the District, Rhee has sent a clear message to teachers that "You're not doing the job. As opposed to our 'Let's work together to create a system where every teacher is supported" to do the best possible job with children.
Weast said he has made getting along with the union a priority from day one, and that has allowed him to work out quieter ways to rid the system of teachers whose performance remains poor even after training and other efforts at improvement.
Cullison and Weast agreed that the raise that the teachers are giving up this year will come back to them at some point in the future, though the superintendent said he is preparing for the economic downturn to last quite a while. If the dramatic decline in state and county revenues continues for more than a couple of years, Weast said cuts that have a powerful impact on the classroom experience could be unavoidable, but for now, the combination of postponed pay raises and cuts in central administration and other spending should allow Montgomery to maintain class size and keep teacher staffing close to current levels.
The superintendent and the union chief were also united on this point: No matter how affluent Montgomery's image may be, the fact remains that teachers, who earn an average salary of $66,000 and who start their careers at $45,000, can barely afford to live in the county. Many commute from great distances and many others share apartments. Forgoing a five percent raise is an act of goodwill and sacrifice, a symbol of commitment to the children they teach, but it's also money that the teachers, reasonably enough, expect to have returned to them at some point down the road.
By Marc Fisher |
December 9, 2008; 8:08 AM ET
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