Wednesday, September 24


Phil Mendelsohn - DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is offering a new labor contract with teachers that would pay them a lot more money in exchange for relinquishing their seniority rights. The basic idea is to put merit above seniority and to reward quality teaching. Who can disagree with the idea of rewarding good teachers and firing the bad? Not me. Even the teachers union claims it does not want to keep bad teachers.

So what's missing? Trust. For such a sensible proposal to work in practice, everyone involved must trust that only bad employees will be fired and those who perform well actually will be rewarded.

The teachers union cites the lack of due process provisions in the contract and the absence of any mechanism whereby a teacher could appeal an arbitrary firing. Critics of the teachers union say this is just another instance of a union protecting its own, regardless of how lazy or bad the teacher. But organized labor and the workforce itself has become distrustful of this government - and why is that?

One doesn't have far to look to find examples of mistreatment of union employees that have fostered the atmosphere of mistrust:

- Earlier this month, an arbitrator ruled that three DC government social workers had been fired improperly and had to be reinstated. It was not a technicality or a process issue that the arbitrator relied on. The arbitrator said the workers had been fired without even an investigation into what, if anything, they had done wrong. Although this was binding arbitration, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles responded that the city will not reinstate the workers.

- In June, the city settled with six DC government lawyers who had been fired from the Attorney General's Office earlier that month. The employees' union had sued, saying the city had failed to follow proper procedure for terminations.

- In April, five employees in the Office of Labor Management Partnerships were converted to civil service and made permanent. But 3-1/2 months later, each received a letter stating that the Department of Human Services had acted 'without the appropriate authorization from the City Administrator and that they were losing their jobs.

How can the administration be trusted to treat employees fairly? Then there is the case of Art Siebens, an 18-year, award-winning science teacher at Wilson Sr. High School. He was forced to 'reapply' for his job this summer because the school had failed to meet adequate yearly progress (in subject areas unrelated to Mr. Siebens' teaching, however). He was not rehired. Newspaper reports say he was told he did 'not fit in.' Was this because he had occasionally been outspoken about problems at Wilson? DCPS has not explained, despite enormous protest.

Mr. Siebens is now teaching at a different school, because he had civil service protection. But what does this incident say to the teachers' union at a time when management w ants a contract without civil service protection (that puts them 'at will')?

There is another point about the removal of Art Siebens. By all accounts, he was excellent: 41 of the 43 pubic school students citywide who last year achieved the highest AP test scores in biology were Siebens' students. How, then, can his removal be reconciled with Chancellor Rhee's dogma of great teachers and high test scores? Or with the slogan posted in her office: 'ensuring that adult issues never come before the best interests of children'?

It seems to me that the adults running the show at DCPS need to refocus their sights on kids, and value the need for trust in the process.


At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great points. You'd think that Rhee might adjust her rhetoric and try to persuade, rather than just dangle a carrot. They need to realize that you can't treat staff like a punching bag and earn their trust at the same time.


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