Michelle Rhee
Michelle Rhee


The D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Teachers’ Union are set to unveil their long-awaited contract proposal, bringing to a close negotiations that have dragged on for the duration of Chancellor Michelle Rhee‘s tenure.

An announcement could come as soon as tomorrow, debuting an agreement that would offer city teachers significant raises plus the option to participate in novel “performance pay” plans, all funded in part with $64.5 million in private funds.

Preliminary details on the proposal come from draft internal documents obtained by LL; sources indicate that the outlines of the proposal are in place, though some details remain in flux.

The five-year contract, which would be retroactive to October 2007 and continue through September 2012, would mean an overall 21.6 percent rise in teachers’ base salary rates. But the most discussed parts of the proposal stand to be performance pay and the process for “excessed” teachers (i.e., those laid off from an overstaffed school), as well as the novel funding stream.

Not all teachers would be eligible for performance pay. Those seeking to participate would have to “qualify in” using an teaching evaluation process that is yet to be finalized. Unlike the ill-fated “green tier” proposal, teachers who participate in performance pay would not lose tenure protections; however, they would lose some rights should they be excessed by DCPS.

As for those teachers not in the performance pay program, those rated “effective” or better under the IMPACT evaluation system would have three options if excessed and unable to immediately find a new DCPS position: take a $25,000 cash buyout; retire with full benefits if a teacher has 20 years experience; or take an additional year to find a placement with DCPS assistance, after which they would be fired.

Due process rights would be “streamlined” under the proposal but not ditched entirely. According to the documents, “teachers are entitled to due process that is fair, transparent, and expedient.” The documents refer to a “system of checks and balances on the authority of school administrators.”

Teachers who have moved past probationary status (i.e., in their third year at DCPS) will be protected from firing without “just cause.” Those still on probationary status can be terminated for reasons “not arbitrary and capricious.” The documents emphasize that those terms have “strong meaning in labor arbitration.”

The base salary raises and performance pay initiative are funded via nearly $65 million in private donations gathered by the D.C. Public Education Fund—-$10 million from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation; $10 million from the Broad Foundation; $19.5 million from the Robertson Foundation, and $25 million from the Walton Family Foundation. The money, according to documents, is devoted to the “recruitment, retention and rewarding of quality teachers.”

Notably absent from that list is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has taken a keen interest in urban school reform and has developed ties with Rhee. One of the documents obtained by LL addresses its absence thusly: “The Gates Foundation has been incredibly generous, and, like all other funders, is donating substantial resources to a singular effort. The Gates Foundation is currently supporting innovations in teacher professional development such as the online platform, which is currently being planned, that will allow for personalized training for individual teachers.”

As yet unaddressed: what happens in 2012, when the contract expires. Do the foundations have any ongoing commitment to funding DCPS, or would the city have to make up the difference, or would teachers face the possibility of a pay cut?

The contract proposal does address two extremely sticky areas of labor-management relations of late. One is the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which is the foundation for much of what the contract proposes; the teachers union can have no direct say on evaluations under city law, but DCPS has agreed, according to the documents, to form a working group with WTU reps to “review teachers’ concerns and suggestions regarding implementation of IMPACT….and to make recommendations to resolve issues and make improvements.” IMPACT, additionally, will be subject to an outside review.

And then there’s reductions-in-force, or RIFs—-which occur when teachers are laid off to close a budget shortfall. Last fall, a DCPS RIF set off a political firestorm, with teachers, union officials, and politicians complaining about an opaque and arbitrary process that led to the firings of 266 teachers.

Under the contract proposal, new “checks and balances” would be instituted “to help members and the WTU deal with difficult personnel decisions and quickly challenge any arbitrary actions either at the building or district level.” Specifically, there would be “consultation with WTU to discuss other possible options” prior to a RIF; “stronger language on the role of [local school restructuring teams],” which were supposed to play a crucial role in the fall RIF but in many cases did not; and “multiple hiring opportunities” for RIF’d teachers.

The contract proposal will be presented to teachers for a ratification vote; the contract would then go to the D.C. Council for final approval. A meeting of the WTU Representative Assembly has been called for tomorrow evening at McKinley Technology High School to discuss the proposal; expected to attend is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, WTU’s parent union, who has taken an key role in the negotiations.

The proposal, and teachers’ reaction to it, stands to have a dramatic impact on the Washington Teachers’ Union election later this spring, where President George Parker is facing a feisty challenge from longtime nemesis Nathan Saunders. The contract is also certain to have an impact on this year’s mayoral race, with combatants Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray already dueling over their approaches to education.


Here is a draft text from a Q&A prepared by DCPS and the WTU:

WTU Tentative Agreement – Questions and Answers


1. How much is my raise?

The Tentative Agreement is for five years (Oct 1, 2007 – Sept.. 30, 2012), with base salary raises of 3 percent, 3 percent, 5 percent, 4 percent and 5 percent. Upon ratification, you will receive an immediate raise of 11 percent (retroactive pay of 3 percent for 2007-2008, 3 percent for 2008-2009 and 5 percent for 2009-2010). The total increase adds up to a realized increase of 21.6 percent. In addition to these significant base salary increases, there are substantial increases in benefit payments, administrative premiums and start-up allocations.

Special Note: Teachers who were separated or retired as a result of the November 2009 reduction-in-force (RIF) also will receive retroactive pay.

2. When the contract is ratified, when do I get my raise? When do I get my retroactive pay?

The WTU will work with DCPS to ensure retroactive payments are quick and accurate. (George Parker would have add here.

3. Is performance pay included in this Agreement?

A voluntary individual performance pay provision is included in this Agreement. Teachers must “qualify in” to participate in the individual performance pay system.

4. How do I “qualify” for individual performance pay? What are the consequences of participation? Will it be based solely on test scores?

WTU and DCPS will collaborate on the development and implementation of an individual performance pay program for the fall of 2010. The exact details regarding qualifications and standards for rewards have not been developed. The individual performance-based pay system, however, shall be on a voluntary, “qualify-in” basis that includes multiple measures of teaching practice and student growth for tested and non-tested grades and subjects. Most importantly, participation does not require teachers to relinquish their tenure.

In the event of excessing, permanent status teachers who elect to participate have 60 days to secure another placement in DCPS. If they do not find a placement, participating teachers are not eligible for the three options under performance-based placement (see Question #18) and may be subject to separation from DCPS.

5. How will the school-wide TEAM awards change? How much will they be worth?

The school-wide TEAM awards will now be based on the relative growth of student performance instead of a fixed amount of student growth. This will give many more schools and staff members a realistic chance of receiving an award. The amount of the awards will depend on the availability of funds and awards. All staff members will know the approximate amount of the TEAM award before the start of each year.

6. Where does all the money for the various monetary increases in the Agreement come from? What happens if the DCPS runs out of money?

Along with the traditional funding sources, DCPS has secured letters of support from a number of private funders to pay for base salary and performance components of this Tentative Agreement. Before the WTU a asked members to vote on the proposal, DCPS and the WTU received a written certification from DC’s Chief Financial Officer that assures the financial viability of the proposal.

Failure to provide the funds to meet the obligations of the Agreement -pertaining to base salary, benefits and mutual consent is a material breach of contract by DCPS. The consequences of that breach will be settled by a court or an arbitrator, unless otherwise negotiated by the Parties.

7. How much do I get for “start-up” funds? How and when will it be distributed?

Start-up funds for the 2010-2011 school year will be $175, an increase of 75 percent. It increases to $200 for the 2011-2012 school year. The WTU will work with DCPS to create an effective distribution process that allows teachers to access the funds so they have the tools they need prior to the start of school.

8. What is the “Administrative Premium?”

(I have a good idea, but George should answer this on)

9. When do the increases in benefits kick-in?

The increases in benefits will be effective immediately upon ratification of the Tentative Agreement by members and approval by the DC City Council. (Check with George)


10. Does the contract force teachers to give up tenure?

No. This Agreement preserves permanent status and due process. Though tenure often is misconstrued and vilified, no one believes tenure guarantees teachers “a job for life.” Everyone agrees, however, that teachers are entitled to due process that is fair, transparent and expedient. This Agreement provides that. It also strengthens language on due process and creates a system of checks and balances on the authority of school administrators—particularly as it relates to reductions-in-force. Moreover, teachers who volunteer to participate in any of the performance pay programs do not relinquish their due process rights.

11. Does the new contract include Red and Green?

No. Unlike the red and green proposal, all teachers’ base pay is calculated using the same salary structure. New teachers and veteran teachers all are paid using the same base pay system. All of the base pay salary schedules can be found on the last pages of the proposed agreement.

12. What is the difference between “just cause” and “not arbitrary and capricious?” Why was this changed?

Permanent status teachers will continue to have the protection of “just cause.” Just cause is a common standard in labor arbitration, and is included in the tentative agreement as a strong form of job security. Probationary teachers will not be “at-will” as is the case in most other states, in DC probationary teachers will have the protection of “not arbitrary and capricious.” -It means a clear error of judgment or an action not based upon consideration of relevant factors. Both of these terms have strong meaning in labor arbitration and afford WTU members the protect they need and deserve.

13. How has the grievance process change? How is it better than before?

It is more streamlined. By removing one step and clarifying actions within each step, the process will work better for teachers and provide quick resolutions for all grievances.


14. Does the Agreement include the support and protection from arbitrary dismissals and RIFs?

The WTU was very concerned about the lack of transparency exhibited by DCPS over the past few years regarding dismissals and RIFs. The proposal has new “checks and balances” for evaluations, excessing and reductions-in-force. These new provisions will help members and the WTU deal with difficult personnel decisions and quickly challenge any arbitrary actions either at the building or district level.

15. How does the new Agreement address the uniqueness of B.C. law as it relates to RIF? Are there provisions in the new agreement to ensure a greater degree of fairness?

Under D.C. law, the Chancellor has unfettered authority to institute a RIF. This Agreement places some checks and balances on that authority and creates a process that promotes a greater degree of transparency and fairness. Additionally, it offers teachers affected by RIF and excessing options that were not previously available. (See Question 8.)

16. How will the contract stop DCPS from using a RIF to get rid of teachers?

The proposed Agreement cannot stop DCPS from implementing a RIF. RIF and Furloughs are part of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR). The proposed Agreement, however, has several new provisions to avoid many of the issues that led to the recent RIF. These include a clear policy regarding excessing and placement, consultation with WTU to discuss other possible options, stronger language on the role of LSRTs, and multiple hiring opportunities for teachers who have been RIFed.

17. How will excessing decisions be made?

Excessing decisions will be made using the rubric found on page 28 of the proposed Agreement. The following steps will be followed when DCPS determines an excess is necessary:

• The Local School Restructuring Team (LSRT) shall make a recommendation for the area(s) of certification to be affected.
• The Building Personnel Committee shall make a recommendation to the Supervisor as to the teacher(s) to be affected.
• The Teachers in the affected area may provide evidence to the Personnel Committee for their consideration.

If the Supervisor’s final decision departs from the recommendations of the LSRT or the Building Personnel Committee, the Supervisor must prepare a written justification. Upon the request of the WTU President, the justification shall require the approval of the Chancellor prior to implementation of the excess at that school.

18. What happens if I am excessed? What happens if I can’t find a placement? What happens if I can’t find a placement after one year? Will I get help finding a placement?

When a teacher is excessed, DCPS will provide multiple hiring opportunities. If a teacher with an effective rating or higher is unable to secure a new position in 60 days they have 5 days to select from the following three options:

1. Receive a $25,000 cash buyout resulting in separation from DCPS;
2. Teachers with twenty (20) or more years of creditable service shall have the option of retiring with full benefits; or
3. An Extra Year to Secure a New Position.

Teachers who are unable to secure a placement will be provided additional hiring opportunities, professional development and temporary assignments. At the end of the year, any teacher who still has not secured a position may be separated from DCPS.

19. How do the three options work? What are the requirements?

Any teacher who receives an effective rating or higher will be eligible for the three options. Only excessed teachers with 20 or more years in DCPS have the option to select retiring with full benefits.


20. When will all this professional development and new support for teachers be available?

Immediately upon ratification, the WTU and DCPS will take steps to provide teachers with the high-quality professional develop opportunities outlined in the tentative agreement. WTU will focus on the immediate professional development needs identified by our members to ensure those needs are met as soon as possible.

21. How will the new teacher centers work? Who will staff them? What will they do?

Work will begin to launch the new WTU Professional Development Centers as soon as ratification is complete. WTU will work with the teachers of the UFT Teacher Centers in New York City to help shape our centers locally. Their experiences will prove invaluable to the teachers of DC as we embark on a new area of teacher-led professional development in our city.

22. What are the school improvement models? Who decides what model should be used?

The Tentative Agreement includes three new models for school improvement. In all of them, teachers continue to be full WTU members with all of the rights afforded by the WTU contract. The actual details of the three models can be found on pages 20 -24 of the Tentative Agreement. Teachers, administrators and community members working with each school’s Local School Restructuring Team (LSRT) will decide which model is best for their students.


23. Will the new contract help improve discipline in my school? If so, how? Will I be supported?

Yes. The proposed Agreement requires that every school align its school discipline policy with Chapter 25 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR). In addition, each school will form a Student Behavior Management Committee (SBMCJ that must design a school-wide discipline and behavior management plan based on the local school’s disciplinary needs, and it must be consistent with Chapter 25. To ensure every school has a comprehensive and fully operating plan, the WTU shall develop a system-wide template that will include the required components of school discipline/behavior management plans, along with models of best practices.

24. When will the WTU template for discipline be shared with my school?

The WTU already has contacted the AFT to help develop the discipline template for our schools. Working with the best discipline experts from around the country, the new template will be a step forward in ensuring our students have the safe’and orderly learning environments they deserve.


25. How will my concerns about the new teacher evaluation system be addressed?

D.C. law prohibits the union from negotiating on teacher evaluations. WTU and DCPS, however, have agreed in writing to form a working group of members and administrators to review teachers’ concerns and suggestions regarding implementation of the IMPACT evaluation system and to make recommendations to resolve issues and make improvements. Additionally, the new Agreement calls for an independent evaluation and an internal review of IMPACT.

26. What additional things were agreed to or clarified in negotiations?

There four side letters attached to this tentative agreement. They cover a variety of concerns not directly addressed in the agreement:

1. A “working group” of teachers and administrators to review teachers’ concerns and suggestions regarding implementation of the IMPACT evaluation system and make recommendations to the Chancellor as she/he works to resolve issues and make improvements.
2. Mutually agreed upon experts to review the IMPACT system and make recommendations to enhance and improve the system.
3. Clarification that WTU has always believed that past practice regarding progressive discipline does not apply to situations involving sexual harassment or sexual/physical abuse by a teacher.
4. Teachers who were RIF’d in November 2009, will be provided opportunities to interview for any position for which they are qualified before external candidates are considered. (Must check on the exact language on this one!!!)

Here is the text of a separate Q&A, one that addresses the sources of the contract funding:

Framing Message and Q and A for Private Dollars

Framing Message:

In order to appropriately compensate teachers for the incredible job they do each and every day, we called upon a broad range of foundations with vast experience in the field of education philanthropy to help support a contract that will compensate DCPS teachers in a way that no other school system can match. The dollars from each foundation – $64.5 million total – will be dedicated to separate and specific areas of the contract. These foundations believe in education reform that recognizes and empowers teachers. We are extremely grateful that they stepped up when asked and are helping to launch a new kind of contract.


Q: Are any private funds being used to facilitate the costs of this contract?

A: Yes. A significant percentage of this contract is being funded with private dollars from a wide and diverse array of foundations. This funding will allow DCPS to compensate teachers as the skilled professionals they are, with accountability measures that reward strong classroom performance.

Q: Which foundations are involved?

A: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation
The Broad Foundation
The Robertson Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation

Q: How much have they contributed?

A: Each organization stepped up to the plate with extremely generous commitments.
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation: $10 million
The Broad Foundation: $10 million
The Robertson Foundation: $19.5 million
The Walton Family Foundation: $25 million

Q: Are these private dollars going to anything specific or a general fund?

A: These dollars will go toward the recruitment, retention and rewarding of quality teachers.

Q: Why are these foundations contributing to the cost of a teacher’s union contract?

A: All of these foundations have two things in common: they believe.in our vision for reform, and they all committed their support when asked by the DC Public Education Fund.

Q: What is the role of the DC Public Education Fund?

A: DC Public Education Fund’s mission is to serve as a strategic partner to businesses, foundations, individuals, and community leaders in collaborating on and investing in high impact programs with DC Public Schools. This work includes attracting critical funding resources, managing key public-private partnerships, and acting as fiscal sponsor for all grants made on behalf of DC Public Schools.

For questions about each individual funder, refer media to the specific foundations.

Q: Is it appropriate to use private funds for public education?

A: Yes, we want to bring every available resource to bear for improving our public schools.

Q: Are there any strings attached to these dollars?

A: It is important to be clear that the District will control this money, rather than the funders. The conditions are that DCPS stay true to its mission of reform, and that these dollars be used to support excellence in teaching. There are no conditions that are atypical for a standard grant agreement.

Q: But what happens when these foundations decide to put their resources elsewhere other than the DCPS system?

A: Our partners are committed to the terms and for the duration of this contract. Beyond that, it is our goal to sustain this with public dollars.

Q: Why is the Gates Foundation not involved?

A: The Gates Foundation has been incredibly generous, and, like all other funders, is donating substantial resources to a singular effort. The Gates Foundation is currently supporting innovations in teacher professional development such as the online platform, which is currently being planned, that will allow for personalized training for individual teachers.

Q: Why are there no local foundations involved?

A: Many local foundations generously fund school-based programs throughout DC Public Schools. Large national foundations are the appropriate source for funding…

UPDATED, 7 P.M.: Parker calls LL to emphasize that the Q&A posted above is not a final version. “We’ve made a lot of changes, no doubt,” he says. LL will post the final version as soon as it is available tomorrow.