The Washington Teachers Union, led by Elizabeth Davis, held a series of meetings with teachers throughout the school system from Aug. 16-25 in the District’s eight wards. Davis traveled to the schools to explain the details of the city’s new contract and why she believes it is the best deal for teachers now.
“I urge you to vote ‘yes’ for our new tentative three-year contract,” Davis said at the meetings. “It yields a nine percent raise and provides us with the respect and support we deserve as highly-skilled professionals dedicated to D.C. public school students.”
The District’s public school teachers have operated without a new contract since 2012. The union has worked with three chancellors, Kaya Henderson, interim John Davis, and Antwan Wilson to get to the point of a new agreement.
The union announced the agreement on Aug. 14 at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Ward 5 with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles, and Wilson. Highlights of the contract include a four percent pay increase that is retroactive to 2016-2017 school year, three percent on top of the four percent increase starting Oct. 1 and two percent increase for the 2018-2019 school year.
Other contract benefits include a four percent increase to the teacher pension plan, starting in 2016-2017, retroactively and educators who are excessed (pushed out) from schools will be guaranteed placement in an available D.C. public school. Teachers will also have an equal voice with school system leaders and school-level administrators in decisions that impact professional practices and assignments.
The contract and the ballot were mailed to the teachers. The teachers have until Sept. 8 to vote on the contract. If approved by the teachers, it goes to the D.C. Council. If the Council approves, it will be sent to Bowser where she is expected to sign it. If the contract is not approved, the old contract will continue and the union will try to get the chancellor to re-start negotiations.
Several questions at the sessions had to do with the leverage that teachers had over their working conditions and teacher/principal relations. Davis said teachers should report violations of the present contract to the union and she admonished those that did not do that. “We are only going to get justice if you report those violations,” she said adamantly.
Shakera Oliver, a sixth-grade teacher at the Brightwood Education Campus, told the AFRO that she supports the contract. “This is my 9th year of teaching and I am pleased to see parties that are vested in the contract come to the table,” she said. “I teach my students every day the importance of integrity and our system should deal with us with integrity.”
Oliver said because of working conditions and other reasons “we have lost a lot of colleagues along the way” but hopes the contract will keep good teachers. There is also something else that Oliver hopes the new contract will solve. “I cannot live in the District because it is too expensive,” she said, hoping that more money would allow her to seek out a place to live in the city.
While Oliver was largely positive about the contract, Keisha Thorpe was more reserved. Thorpe teaches at the Columbia Heights Educational Center and simply said the contract was “reasonable.”
“We have been advocating for this for the past five years,” Thorpe told the AFRO. “Could it have been better? Yes. But we all have to work for a better contract not just a small team. At this point though, we will take what we can get.”
Davis said six months after the contract is signed by Bowser, they will begin the process for another deal.