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This morning, thousands of D.C. Public Schools teachers gathered at the Washington Convention Center for a second annual “welcome back” event, ahead of the first day of school Monday. The teachers took the opportunity to tell DCPS and Washington Teachers’ Union leaders just how they felt about proposed contract reforms.
The most dramatic moments occurred when WTU President George Parker took the podium to address his members. Parker began by addressing the contract negotiations, acknowledging it has been a tough, protracted process. “When you go from point A to point B, you gotta go through some stuff,” Parker said. “Sometimes that stuff is messy.”
He moved on to decry incomplete or inaccurate media reports (“yesterday, in the Washington City Paper,” he said, “I learned that me and Randi Weingarten are in a fight”), before, in a surprise move, asking teachers to take an informal vote on whether a two-tier contract should be offered to the membership for a ratification vote.
Teachers raised their hands. “I think this poll would be as effective as any other,” Parker said. The poll revealed a definite split, with perhaps a few hundred more hands voting not to bring the new contract for a vote, with some of those teachers shouting in the process.
Given the split, Parker told the crowd he would schedule a general membership meeting for next week, allowing teachers to weigh in on the two-tier contract. “I hope you appreciate the challenge that we have,” he said. “It is practically an impossible task.”
Parker urged teachers to support the final decision, whatever it will be. “We must not split ourselves as a union,” he said.
Meanwhile, schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was seated next to Parker, not looking happy at all watching thousands of teachers jeer the centerpiece of her school reform package.
Earlier, things had taken on a more celebratory tone, with Rhee running an educational sweepstakes of sorts. Teachers, administrators, and staff at several schools were awarded well over $1 million in bonuses for being among the highest achieving on the yearly DC-CAS tests, funded in part by . Principals earned a $10,000 bonus, assistant principals won $9,000, teachers won $8,000, with instructional support personnel taking home $4,000 and all other employees $2,000. The schools all received lottery-style “big checks.”
After the checks were handed out came another surprise. Earlier, teachers had been asked to sign an attendance card, which was collected by staffers—-prompting some grumbling from the rank and file about Big Brotherish tactics. Then Rhee announced that the cards were for a drawing to win…a new car!—-a Hyundai donated by Eastern Motors.
The winner, Larry Trower from Taft Elementary, took the stage The Price Is Right—-style, as dozens of his colleagues broke into the Eastern Motors theme song.