- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Members of the Washington Teachers Union approved a new contract Wednesday that both city and labor leaders called beneficial for schoolchildren and will include a voluntary merit-pay component and reduce the impact of tenure in teaching-firing decisions.

Teachers will receive raises retroactive to 2007. The contract, once approved as expected by the D.C. Council, will run through 2012.

The votes, which were still being counted in the afternoon, come nearly two months after schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the union’s president, George Parker, announced a tentative deal had been reached following 2½ years of negotiations.

It also follows contentious discussions in City Hall because the District’s independent chief financial officer had to intervene once city officials learned D.C. Public Schools did not have money in its budget to finance the proposed deal.

The agreement addresses many of teachers’ usual concerns, such as benefits, professional development, student discipline and stipends for participating in extracurricular activities.

It also includes an extraordinary pay-for-performance component that could earn participating teachers up to $150,000 a year in salary, making them some of the highest-paid urban teachers in the country.

Merit-pay — called a “game changer” by New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein — is supported by President Obama as an important component to school reform. Another aspect of Mr. Obama’s education initiative is tying teacher performance to students’ academic growth.

In recent weeks, Ms. Rhee has noted that D.C. students are performing measurably better on math, science and reading tests, and those results, as well as scores in the future, will become part of teachers’ evaluations.

The contract practically ensures that the chancellor can fire teachers based on performance, not seniority. It’s an issue that unions have long battled. But as states scramble for the $4.3 billion federal Race to the Top funds, more and more unions are compromising with school districts on the performance aspect.