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'D Day' for the D.C. Contract?

The Washington Teachers Union membership is meeting tonight about the proposed D.C. contract, including its "red" and "green" compensation tiers. To my great dismay, media aren't allowed to attend. But I'm betting this will be the contract's make-or-break moment.

The head of the WTU, George Parker, said on PBS' Jim Lehrer Newshour recently that members are polling 2-to-1 against the contract.

The contract would allow teachers opting the "green" tier to earn up to $20,000 annually in bonuses, but they'd forgo tenure protections for one year for that opportunity. "Red" tier teachers would maintain the existing pay schedule. The contract also would formally dismantle the seniority system for hiring and transfers.

Parker has by all accounts pushed to give the two-tiered proposal a go, contingent on some additional protections for teachers who opt to join the green-tier pathway. But he's faced a lot of pushback, including some generated by his own parent union, the American Federation of Teachers.

In a legal opinion, which you can find here, the AFT's attorneys said the plan's new definiton of excessing—removing a teacher from a school building and assigning him or her elsewhere—would create "a quick method to terminate teachers without due process."

Mr. Parker says that isn't so. D.C. rulemaking and court cases already allow the district to bypass excessing and consider factors other than seniority when it reduces the teaching force, he argues. (DCPS has been losing huge numbers of its students to the city's burgeoning charter schools.) The relevant documents include D.C. Code §1-624.08 and WTU v. D.C. Board of Education, 109 F.3d 774 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

Still, if Parker can't convince members tonight, then I'm not sure how much longer he can hold out for the contract.

Yet some D.C. teachers I've spoken to are worried about Chancellor Michelle Rhee's plans to push reforms through the district's separate licensure and evaluation systems. If teachers are going to end up with more accountability, one DCPS teacher told me, why not at least have the chance to earn higher salaries along the way?

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