When Antwan Wilson takes the helm of D.C.’s public schools on Feb. 1, he’ll likely have to hit the ground running as he builds on a list of critical administration plans and objectives.
Not only will the new chancellor have to deal with a bucket of new problems sure to be tossed his way, Wilson also faces ongoing issues that include reducing teacher turnover, maintaining an upward spiral in enrollment and, maybe most importantly, settling a yearslong dispute over the teachers’ contract and teacher pay raises.
The last contract expired in 2012, resulting in D.C. public schoolteachers having to work since 2011 without a salary increase.
“The truth of the matter is that DCPS teachers have not received a pay raise going on six years,” said Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis. “I [have] data showing the percentages of pay raises given to the schools’ Central Office staff, and they show that D.C. has the highest Central Office administration overhead than any state in the nation.
“So, as someone who has been in the negotiating room through [former Chancellor] Kaya Henderson and now [interim Chancellor] John Davis, the bottom line is [DCPS] simply want a lot of concessions — which they already have from the last contract — and there is nothing else the union can give them along those lines,” she said.
Davis said that considering D.C. has a top-heavy Central Office, “a school district that receives almost $900 million, and a city that’s boasting about surplus,” it makes no sense that teachers haven’t received a raise.
“What we have is a school district that’s negotiating with the union mainly because [DCPS’s team] has rejected every proposal — the ones that have nothing to do with money or compensation,” she said. “They’ve simply wanted more managerial rights, more power and more control. Our proposals were to help students and teachers do better, and they rejected every one of them.”
While most of the members on the chancellor’s negotiating team have been full-time principals, WTU’s team has consisted of Davis and a roster of full-time teachers, and when the pay issue was brought up again in 2013, the resulting 1 percent pay hike proposed over a six-year period was rejected by WTU as a slap in the face.
Two years later, after teachers accused Henderson and her team of walking away from the contract, the then-chancellor issued a statement saying while she was disappointed an agreement had yet to be met, she remained hopeful the talks would soon resume.
Some seven months passed since May, when teachers at Thompson Elementary School in Northwest took to the streets to demand a new contract and higher pay, and the negotiations remains stalemated.
Laura Fuchs, who’s taught for 10 years at H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast, believes one reason the negotiations have lingered is because it’s been DCPS’s way of trying to undermine the union’s effectiveness.
“At this point, they have been trying to work around every single line of our contract … hoping that if they could stall in making the annual payment effective, that maybe in time [it would be] changed again to buy them more time,” Fuchs said.
She added, however, that since most of the negotiations have been completed, it’s possible for the matter to be resolved by the time Wilson takes over.
“Teachers have done what’s been asked of them, so why shouldn’t they be rewarded?” she asked. “Although I don’t think it’s likely everything will be settled soon, I do think it’s possible.”
David Tansey, a DCPS veteran teacher in his first year at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast, said much of the delay in reaching a new contrast lies in the difference between the last two agreements.
“For one, pay raises somehow, are always lowest on the list and those are just numbers to be crunched and squabbled over,” Tansey said. “This latest contract will largely be about the role of the teacher making decisions, and I suspect the harder arguments will be about how much of a leadership role a teacher has in their school.”
But Davis, who’s gone on record stating she and everyone on her negotiation team would like to have both the teacher pay and contract issues resolved prior to Wilson’s arrival, said she sees no reason why that can’t be achieved now.
She alluded to the contract’s language, saying, “even though they did not accept any of our proposals, I agreed to leave the language that was already there so that we could get to the compensation.”
As for money for pay raises, it’s readily available from untapped city funds, she said.
“Of course it can be done now,” Davis said. “The issue is not the whole contract, but with just one part of the contract — which is compensation.”
On the other hand, WTU local 6 member Candi Peterson isn’t so sure Davis can negotiate the contract within a matter of weeks.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Peterson said, adding that teachers have been waiting three and a half years for a contract under Davis and that many are doubtful she will deliver anytime soon.
“Certainly it would be the new chancellor’s job to negotiate a contract with WTU when he starts the new position,” she said. “It has little to do with being fair — it’s what Chancellor Wilson signed up for. It’s his responsibility to work with all unions.”