Washington Teachers' Union Reaches Tentative Agreement

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Photo by Michael Campbell
From left, AFT president Randi Weingarten, Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee at an April 7 press conference announcing the contract agreement. Photo by Michael Campbell.

After two and a half years of negotiations, and despite one of the most challenging economic environments in generations, the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) and the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) have reached a tentative agreement for a contract that invests in teachers' professional growth, creates conditions for success for students, and boosts teacher pay in the District to a level that is competitive with surrounding school systems. The agreement, negotiated by the WTU and DCPS with assistance from the AFT and mediator Kurt Schmoke, was announced on April 7.

"This agreement provides teachers with the supports they need to facilitate quality teaching and learning," says WTU President George Parker. "We negotiated key professional issues that will help teachers provide their students with the excellent education they deserve, which is what teachers, parents and the community rightly demand and expect."

The tentative agreement provides increased professional support for teachers that will improve teaching and learning, as well as new incentives for educators. Additionally, it includes a significant increase in base salaries, maintains tenure, and preserves due process for teachers and school employees. The agreement also includes new checks and balances related to excessing and reduction in force.

"No one—not parents and not teachers—wants the status quo. This agreement used collective bargaining as a vehicle for change, to create a path to school improvement and student success," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "It is tailored to the specific and unique circumstances in Washington, D.C. At a time when some school systems are mired in conflict—as reflected in these contentious negotiations—and many of the worst effects of the recession are being played out in our public schools, the WTU and DCPS worked through their differences at the negotiating table and reached an agreement that will be good for kids and fair to teachers."

A joint statement issued by Parker, Weingarten and D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee emphasized many of those same points: "While getting to this point took time, one thing is clear," the statement says. "The union and the school district want our city's schools to be the best they can be. We worked through our differences to come up with a plan for education that best serves the needs of D.C.'s schoolchildren. We never veered from the principle that we must raise academic and teaching standards while also treating teachers fairly and giving them the tools and conditions they need to be effective in the classroom."

The major provisions of the agreement include:

  • Improving teaching and learning, including greatly expanded professional development for teachers focused on priority areas identified by educators, the establishment of teacher centers, joint development of school improvement plans and a mentoring/teacher induction program;
  • School improvement models, allowing for the transparency, stakeholder involvement, flexibility and focus to improve struggling schools;
  • Safe and orderly environments for teaching and learning, building on the revised Chapter 25 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations on student discipline and requiring each school to develop a comprehensive plan for student conduct and safety; and
  • Salaries and benefits, including competitive base salary increases, a voluntary individual performance-pay plan, schoolwide performance-based pay and increased DCPS contribution to teacher benefits.

Other key provisions include increased teacher voice in staffing decisions, a better-defined system of due process for disciplinary procedures and an expedited grievance process to resolve teacher complaints. Two documents with more details on the agreement are available on the AFT Web site: highlights of the agreement and a Q&A about it.

The tentative agreement marks the end of nearly three years of negotiations and lays the foundation for an education plan that, if properly implemented, will improve academic performance in D.C.'s public schools. [AFT-WTU press release]

April 7, 2010