Feb 3, 2016

Coming Soon To A School Near You: DC Mayor Announces Extended School Year


Written By, Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice PresidentStatements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. Before it was officially announced, The Washington Teacher blog was the first to break the report of DC Public Schools plans to extend the school year on Thursday, January 28, 2016 in SE middle schools. Click on The Washington Teacher in red to see details of my January 28, 2016 story: The Washington TeacherNow there is official confirmation of DCPS' plans. According to the Mayor's public schedule- Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chancellor Kaya Henderson will announce their extended school year at several DC Public Schools for the 2016-17 school year at 11 am. Others in attendance include: Council member David Grosso, Committee on Education Chair, Charlotte Butler, Principal of Hart Middle School, and Natalie Hubbard, Principal of Raymond Education Campus. The event will be held at Hart Middle School which is located at 601 Mississippi Avenue, SE.According to the press release, this event is being held during Education week in a "week-long effort to highlight how the District is accelerating the pace of school reform and creating pathways to the middle class for District residents." The reasons given in Mayor Bowser's press release for extending the school year point to un-named research which states that "time away from school during the summer contributes to the achievement gap. Providing more time for instruction not only increases time for reading and math, it also provides students more time to explore art, music, foreign language, and other interests.  School districts across the country that have implemented extended year have seen significant gains among their student bodies." It's likely that these extended day programs will be provided in Wards 7 and 8  where many of the lowest performing schools are located.With little to show but incremental movement in standardized test scores as behavioral problems spill out onto the METRO transportation system from troubled DCPS middle schoolers, the Bowser administration now attempts to ram an extended school year down the throats of DCPS teachers without input from stakeholders as WTU President Elizabeth Davis continues to struggle to get teachers' a contract after 2 1/2 years. (last WTU contract expired 9/2012).Mayor Bowser also announced another education initiative earlier this year to open an ALL BOYS school that is slated to open next school year in 2016-17. Education critics view these as political band-aids and gimmicks designed  to fool the public that this administration will raise student achievement and close the achievement gap.Stay tuned for more details........
© Candi Peterson, 2016

Jan 28, 2016

DC Public Schools Imposes Longer School Year in Some Schools Without Stakeholders' Input

By: Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 


It seems like DCPS is forging ahead with the extension of the school year for the 2016-17 school year for some of the District’s lowest performing schools. According to inside sources, some Ward 7 and 8 junior high schools will be on the list to be converted to a longer school year including Hart Middle School and Johnson Middle School in SE as well as Kelly Miller Middle School located in NE. Randle Highlands Elementary School in SE has also been confirmed by inside sources.

2/2/16 Update: Other low performing schools (known as (40/40 schools) will likely be affected, however, exact numbers have yet to be confirmed. I anticipate that Chancellor Henderson will likely be making an official announcement sometime soon. 

 It disappoints me that as an education stakeholder, I am learning of the news in this way. I searched the DCPS website to see if there were any updates on the proposed extended school year news. Nary a word. Needless to say, I am not shocked or surprised.

Raymond Education campus became part of a DCPS pilot where the school year was extended beginning with the 2015-16 school year. Teachers who worked at Raymond were given the option to get a placement at other schools if they did not want to work the longer school year at Raymond. The  Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) filed a grievance regarding the unilateral extension of Raymond’s school year without bargaining with WTU as sole and exclusive bargaining representative for teachers.

Extending the school day and school year have been high on Chancellor Henderson’s list of top priorities for some time now. Over the last couple of years, some of the lower performing elementary schools have extended the school day by an hour.

There has been widespread disagreement over  union contract language on how extending the school day and year can be accomplished. DCPS and WTU do not agree  and have argued whether the non traditional scheduling clause in the WTU contract allows elected teachers (members of a school advisory committee) to vote on a proposal to extend the school day with a 66 2/3 % majority vote. On the other hand, WTU argues that it is the sole bargaining representative for all matters related to pay, wages, benefits, hours of employment and working conditions for teachers. It remains to be seen how this matter will be resolved through the grievance and arbitration process.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to the debate on whether public schools should extend the school day/school year. Even President Obama and former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have weighed in on what’s good for other peoples’ kids. – especially America’s poorest.

The point that must be made is that our public school system is set up to serve the public. Not just the administrators, not just the students, not just the parents and community, not just the teachers and staff, not just the politicians and unions but all of the public. All of us benefit from a great public school system where all of the education stakeholders get a say in what happens in our schools.

Taking the approach to unilaterally impose a longer school year and school day in this top-down management style is no way for DCPS to run a school district and retain good teachers/staff and families. Remember the exodus of families/students under the Michelle Rhee administration when parents were disengaged in the process to close schools and modify elementary and middle schools into a K-8 model?

Haven’t they (DCPS) learned from past mistakes this is no way to run our schools? Many stakeholders I know are asking questions whether these decisions can be unilaterally imposed by DCPS ? Was the WTU and other unions notified prior to these decisions being made? What are the criteria for extending the school day/ school year? Will teachers and school staff be guaranteed another position like the teachers at the pilot school (Raymond EC)?  Will teachers be subject to finding their own mutual consent placement as outlined in the union contract? Has DCPS considered that the decision to lengthen the school year could contribute to higher teacher turn over?  Do education stakeholders get a say? When will the public be notified of these changes? Will there be hearings held on the changes made to the school year? What is the source of funding for lengthening the school year?

One thing I think many of us can agree on, mayoral control of public education has not been the "cure all" for our schools. Certainly, the education gains promised have not been realized. Taking the power away from our elected school board has not been the 'panacea' that some thought it would be.

I would love to hear your comments on the manner in which the extended school year is being handled by DC public schools. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me on this subject and the extended school day. Teachers, school staff, parents, students and community are welcome to write me c/o thewashingtonteacher@gmail.com

© Candi Peterson, 2016

Jan 10, 2016

Did You Know?

Response to Coach Spinner
By: Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

The recent emails you have received about me from Coach Spinner are accusations, half-truths and lies intended to mislead teachers as we approach union election season 2016. Coach Spinner continues to be a “campaign surrogate” for former president, Nathan Saunders. Remember they ran together and lost in 2013.  It seems dishonesty is a normal part of any election cycle.

I have prided myself as an excellent communicator and have expressed my views about public education and our union for the past 8-½ years as The Washington Teacher education blogger starting during the Michelle Rhee era. I welcome you to check out my blog @ http://thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com/

I’m compelled to respond to many of the half truths and lies that have been written about me as well as rumors that are spreading around.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: Peterson’s “lack of negotiation experience and inability to lead has created the poor state of affairs of the WTU.”

Response:
As the WTU General Vice President (GVP), I AM NOT A MEMBER OF THE WTU CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS TEAM. The members of the Contract team are: Elizabeth Davis, Chief Negotiator, Rob Weil, AFT, Jason Edwards, AFT, Chris Bergfalk, Thomson ES,  Janice Brown, Speech Pathologist, Alicia Hunter, Wilson SHS, Mark Montgomery, Plummer ES, Signe Nelson, Whittier EC, and Michael White, Neval Thomas ES.

The union President is the Chief Negotiator of the WTU Contract.  This is one of the primary duties of the WTU President,  to secure a contract during his/her three-year term.

The last union president to secure teachers a contract was George Parker in 2010. Former President Saunders DID NOT secure a contract in his term during 2010-2013, and neither has President Elizabeth Davis, to date. Coach Spinner was on the WTU Executive Board during 2010-2013 when Nathan Saunders was in office, a fact he left out of his blog.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: “How can our union have solidarity when two people most responsible for solidarity are constantly fighting?”

Response:

This is an out and out lie. While I have philosophical differences with President Davis, I am not constantly fighting with her. In fact, due to the demands of representing teachers, many times I only see President Davis in passing. We have had disagreements within our Executive Board meetings as this is the proper forum to hash out and air differences of opinion in order to set policy. This does not carry over to our day-to-day-work.

Solidarity was not one of the platform issues that the Davis/Peterson administration ran on and it’s a false issue as the General Vice President (GVP) plays an important governance oversight role on the WTU board.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: “Maybe she (Peterson) just hopes teachers are not aware of her part in the WTU failure. Maybe she just hopes teachers forget that her job includes helping the WTU President.”

Response: When requested, I have undertaken all initiatives and tasks assigned by President Davis.

The roles and responsibilities of the General Vice President (GVP) are delineated in the WTU Constitution, Article  VIII, and Section 2:

A. Perform other duties as delegated by the President or assigned by the Executive Board.
B. Oversee and assist the building representatives in their duties.
C. Supervise the field representatives and other employees as designated by the President.
D. Co-sign checks and other financial documents in the absence of the President or the Treasurer and serve as a fiduciary of the Union. The General Vice-President shall be
bonded and such expense shall be borne by the Union.
E. Perform all the duties of the President in the absence of the President.
F. Complete the un-expired term of the president should the office become vacant. G. Convene the Elections Committee.

Unfortunately, in my elected role- I have been marginalized once again and the majority of my constitutional duties have been assigned to Ms. Egbufor, WTU Chief of Staff.

DID YOU KNOW?

As the General Vice President I was forced to file a complaint due to unfair labor practices. I did not want to file another complaint against WTU; however, in good conscience, I had no choice because I am not a victim. Last summer, the WTU Executive Board passed a motion during July, 2015 to stop President Davis from willfully interfering with the duties of the General Vice President (GVP) ; however, to date-President Davis has refused to  honor that motion.

Subsequently, I filed an unfair labor practice with the Public Employee Relations Board (known as PERB) against WTU and President Davis for marginalizing my elected duties as General Vice President (GVP), as well as, failure of the WTU President to hold timely elections of the WTU Elections Committee and unauthorized payment of union funds.

The reason the orderly convening of the elections committee is critical, without them teachers will not be able to vote on a contract or hold union elections of officers in 2016. The elections committee elections should have been held in May 2015. WTU elections are eight months overdue.
DID YOU KNOW? That due to the poor staff management and morale, there has been wholesale turnover in key WTU staff positions that has required the General Vice President to function as a de-facto field representative?

When four of our Field Representatives resigned in June 2014, I filled in as WTU Filed Representative covering 40 + schools. Given that Field Services Department is still understaffed, I continue to serve in a dual role as Field Representative even though that is not part of my constitutionally mandated duties.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: Peterson “deliberately undermined three WTU presidents (Parker, Saunders and now Davis) all the while crying the victim.

Response: I am an advocate for teachers and have stood up to corruption within our union and DCPS. I previously served on the Board of Trustees under the Parker/Saunders administration. As a result of my effectiveness as a committed WTU board member and advocate for teachers, Nathan Saunders asked me to run with him on his slate in 2010 as General Vice President (GVP). We both worked to defeat Parker and won in 2010. Coach Spinner was also elected on our then Executive Board. 

Soon after the successful election of Saunders/Peterson, former President Saunders ‘summarily dismissed’ me (fired me without due process) from WTU in September 2011 and requested that Chancellor Henderson  illegally revoke my leave of absence from DCPS. As a result, I had no choice but to return to DCPS. Subsequently, I filed for arbitration against WTU and won my case on September 24,  2012. 

Arbitrator Stanley Mazaroff ruled:
“This legally unstoppable action taken by Saunders was not cured by the similar action orchestrated by Saunders and taken during the following week by the Executive Board, Under the Constitution & By-Laws, the Executive Board’s authority to discharge or otherwise discipline employees did not extend to union officers. Article V of the By-Laws expressly provides that the authority to terminate employees shall not apply to officers of the union. This exclusion recognizes the fundamental differences between union employees and elected officers. In the important democratic values that are embedded in the WTU Constitution. Elected officers, like Peterson are voted into office by secret ballot of membership, and they can only be removed in other words recalled by petition signed by 30 percent of the membership. Thus, neither the president nor the executive board had the authority to under the union’s Constitution & By-Laws to override the will of the WTU membership and or dismiss through termination, Peterson’s salary and authority, to constructively discharge Peterson.”

Saunders refused to reinstate me into office as GVP despite my legal victory. His actions were illegally SANCTIONED by our then Executive Board (including Spinner) and this cost the union thousands of dollars. These actions also stole the vote of members who elected me into office.

For 2 ½ years, I have tried to work with President Davis. I have attempted to try to resolve problems internally rather than externally.  

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: “When 28 Social Workers appealed to her (Peterson) for assistance to save their jobs, she failed them. They were all fired by DCPS in June 2015. Any WTU leadership without her has a chance of succeeding for teachers. Union solidarity is important and she has demonstrated the WTU cannot have any with her. “

Response: Twenty-eight (28) social workers were not fired from DCPS.  The social workers’ case was assigned by President Davis to WTU Field Rep. Consultant, Charles Moore. The President has the discretion to make assignments to staff. WTU has filed a grievance on behalf of DCPS social workers that were fired as well as filed a complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board. Their case is pending a hearing.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: “ It is crystal clear that a lack of credibility and character on the part of the Davis/Peterson team has led to the erosion of WTU’s credibility. When we are finally presented a contract proposal, we must go through it with a fine toothcomb. I doubt there will be any proposals at this late date. Members cannot unquestionably trust Davis or Peterson given their track record and leadership dynamics.”

Response:  The goal of the Spinner/Saunders campaign is to discredit me. I stand on my record. When I came into office, the union was broke and we inherited enormous debt and a 'white elephant' office building with a 5 million dollars in mortgage loans that required WTU to get a co-signer to keep the property. Our parent organization, AFT co-signed the loan and then designated WTU as a “local in crisis.”

Unfortunately, the office of the General Vice President (GVP) does not give me the power to over-ride any decisions made by the President. I AM NOT THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER. As an Executive Board member, I have 1 vote on our board. Just like a teacher in a school, if the principal makes unwise decisions, teachers do not have the power to overturn their actions.

While I may have not spoken out publicly for the past 2-½ years, I have spoken up internally and have been a voice for teachers on the Executive Board, as well as in our schools.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allegation: We must vote for competent and proven leadership that can deliver. Vote for leadership that will be honest, open-minded and forward thinking. We need leadership that can solve problems and make decisions that will improve our working conditions. New leadership must have a finger on the pulse of the members while being respected by DCPS and the educational community.


Response:  There is nothing NEW about Coach Spinner and Nathan Saunders. Former President Saunders was the union president from 2010-2013 and General Vice President for two terms. He did not get teachers a contract. Saunders did not prove to be honest, open minded or forward thinking. Coach Spinner was part of the former Executive Board under Saunders. Both have been Missing in Action (MIA) since they lost the last election in 2013.

© Candi Peterson, 2016

Dec 14, 2015

Broken Promises- It's December - Still No Contract for You!

No More Broken Promises!
By Candi Peterson, General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

For the record, I AM NOT a member of the WTU Contract Negotiations team. I never have been. I am a concerned union member and I am tired of 'Broken Promises' of WTU Presidents. 

I've witnessed the campaign of mis-information, neglect and avoidance of what I consider the number one job of a WTU President - represent the interests of its members in getting a negotiated contract.

It’s December and after 3 plus years of desperately awaiting a teacher contract, DCPS teachers still don’t have a contract thanks to WTU President/Chief Negotiator Davis and former union president Saunders. Teachers are still in limbo and it seems unlikely that there will be a tentative agreement by the end of the calendar year as reported by President Davis in previous union meetings and newsletters.  The last WTU contract expired in September 2012.

Prior to the thanksgiving break, teachers were invited to the Kellogg conference center on the campus of Galludet University on November 19 by WTU for a Contract Action and Member Feedback session.

The WTU newsletter billed this event as the “first-ever WTU member engagement event on contract negotiations” and “an opportunity to represent  each school chapter utilizing state-of-the-art audience response technology and hand-held devices to interact, analyze and partake in preliminary contract voting and surveying of the full proposals and Articles completed by the WTU contract negotiations team. 

Some of the teachers I conversed with during the evening, initially seemed hopeful that this event was finally an indication that Chief Negotiator Davis and the contract negotiations team were a lot closer to a completion of a tentative agreement. By evening’s end, the presentation left teachers clamoring for transparency.

Michelle Smith, a WTU building representative said as she exited, “I don’t know anymore now then when I came.” Another teacher who requested anonymity said, “when will we see what has already been presented to DCPS ? Tonight was more fake transparency.”

Jim Leonard, a veteran teacher and long standing WTU Building Representative at Wilson Senior High school wrote a letter expressing high school teachers concerns who sat at his table at the Kellogg contract negotiations event.  Interesting how Jim’s letter similarly concluded that the meeting left a lot of unanswered questions for teachers.  "I really think that the time to take the pulse of the rank and file should be behind us. If we have established positions that the team has thoroughly vetted then we should go forward with the process, do the best we can and then bring the results back for a vote. If there is dissatisfaction, then let those members vote the contract down, says Leonard."

While Leonard said he initially planned to email the letter to WTU President Liz Davis, he opted to openly read his letter at the last union meeting of the year in December held at McKinley. 

Leonard tactfully confronts teachers concerns in his letter below. Please read and share this blog with teachers you know.

Liz,
"I just wanted to give you the impressions from my table of high school teachers. Although I think it is a positive that the WTU is seeking input regarding areas that are being worked on, most of us left the meeting not really knowing much more than what we knew when we arrived. Is it that you can’t give us specific language that you have proposed, or has no specific language been presented to the district for consideration? That seems to be the biggest concern. 

Are we still trying to get the pulse of the membership to see what language should be presented or are we sharing ideas that have already been prepared and presented?  I would find it difficult to imagine that we could ever be in a position to complete the process if we do not yet have established goals with language to match already completed.

There were some areas that were informative, such as the WTU’s position regarding the extended day or year. If I heard you correctly the WTU would like to have its members be able opt out of either the extended day or year if their school votes to accept either of these.  That was definitive information. Thank you.

We also learned that there will be an attempt to tighten up the grievance process. I think the results of the question about being paid by administrative premium v. per diem, for after-hours work, was interesting. My only concern is that if we go to a per diem model the district will only give those positions to younger teachers, as it will cost them far less.

I really appreciate your time and effort and your concern about transparency; however I really think that the time to take the pulse of the rank and file should be behind us. If we have established positions that the team has thoroughly vetted then we should go forward with the process, do the best we can and then bring the results back for a vote. If there is dissatisfaction, then let those members vote the contract down."

Jim


© Candi Peterson, 2015


Nov 9, 2015

A Guide to Interpreting WTU-DCPS Contract Talks


Written by Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 


For the record, I am not a member of the WTU contract negotiations team. Like you are, I am a  concerned union member. 

From where I sit, it’s not looking good for the negotiations between WTU and DCPS. Let’s just say negotiations aren’t dead, but negotiations seem to have broken off with WTU and members of the Chancellor’s team.

DCPS teachers are complaining because the last contract expired in 2012, and three years later, they still are without a contract. Having gone this long without a contract, it’s understandable why many teachers’ see no real end in sight.

In reaction to teachers’ concerns about not having a contract, WTU recently released a contract update on October 19, 2015; titled WTU-DCPS Contract Talks FAQs. My analysis here is an attempt to provide educators a guide in interpreting WTU-DCPS contract talks. The WTU FAQ sheet reveals:

“WTU President Elizabeth Davis and our negotiators are committed to reaching a new agreement by the end of December. In order to accomplish this, the WTU will direct its focus to engaging in full-time contract negotiations. We’re pushing hard towards that goal….”

We must ask if President Davis is recommending full time contract negotiations, is this a viable option given that most of the members on the negotiating team are  either full-time principals on the chancellor’s team or full-time teachers on the WTU team? Is it likely that DCPS would agree to this when this proposal would require that teachers and principals on both sides would have to abandon their schools/classes for an extended period of time?  Is the end of December 2015 a realistic time frame for the completion of a tentative agreement?  It seems highly unlikely unless Davis has a tentative agreement tucked away in her hip pocket. When did both sides-WTU and DCPS last meet? Was it during last school year (14-15) ?

The WTU FAQ sheet gives the following responses regarding Why negotiations
are taking so long?

“Bargaining can be a long and complicated process particularly when there are significant issues to be resolved. The talks have now stretched over two administrations. The former administration had offered proposals that would have lowered the professionalism and undercut the voice of teachers….

Your bargaining team drafted new proposals that would move us in a better direction …. Time and again, the school district has appeared to take the slow play approach to bargaining. We repeatedly proposed full time negotiations everyday-DCPS said no. We proposed meetings over the summer-DCPS said no. Back in January, we requested the financial and programmatic data essential to informed negotiations nearly 10 months later, we are still waiting. DCPS says it agrees with the goal of finishing by the end of the year, and we are hopeful DCPS actions in the future will represent a real commitment to this aim.

WTU and DCPS shared their respective proposals, and it was clear that we were far apart on some major issues; including protected planning time, class size, supplies and support.”

It’s a given that contract negotiations can be long and complicated and have spanned  two administrations under Saunders and now Davis. This is not news. This explanation  focuses on what former President Saunders’ administration offered in his contract proposal. What this explanation doesn’t tell us why President Davis has been unable to secure a tentative agreement in two years and three months in office?

 It would seem logical to me that both sides would disagree on the major issues cited above. Isn’t that the whole point of negotiations that there has to be give and take on both sides in order to reach a compromise?

There’s got to be more than just disagreements about when to hold contract meeting talks with DCPS.
What are the difficulties in communication on both sides?  Isn’t it true that previous contract teams didn’t meet full time or during summers yet negotiated a tentative agreement? The WTU FAQ sheet suggests that WTU proposed a 2015-16 contract negotiations schedule yet “DCPS said no.”  So are we to believe that the weekly dates printed in the WTU yearly 15-16 calendar  beginning September 10, 2015 and ending June 20, 2016 were all rejected by DCPS?

What does Davis mean when she states the school District has appeared to take the slow play approach to bargaining? The word ‘appears’ is the operative word in this sentence. It certainly conflicts with Davis’ earlier statements that the Chancellor and her team were refusing to meet.  As members, we deserve to hear the whole story not just some ‘talking points’ crafted to quell member dissension. Inquiring minds want to know the details.

What are our priorities?  The WTU FAQ sheet lists the following as priorities:

"Educational resources, expansion of the community schools concept, mutual consent alternative, time and tools and salary and benefits."

We all agree that resources, planning time, salary and benefits are givens in most contracts. But let’s cut to the chase. What else besides a mutual consent alternative is among WTU’s top key priorities? For starters, how is WTU approaching DCPS’ desire to extend the school day? Is extended day a non-negotiable item for WTU?  Has WTU resigned not to discuss this issue with management?

Where are we now? The WTU FAQ sheet says:

"We are in the early stages of mediation process that began when DCPS asked-and WTU agreed- to seek the help of a mediator. President Davis has met several times with the proposed mediator, and hopefully with the agreement of DCPS, we will soon begin full time negotiations."

What is the conflict that led to a mediator being considered by DCPS?  Has WTU presented their choices for a mediator to DCPS? If so, when? If not, why not?

What’s next? The WTU FAQ sheet indicates:

"….. Transparency has been a guiding principle for your bargaining team. We have tried to make sure you have accurate, real time information on our negotiations. Over the next few weeks, your WTU leaders, district representatives and building representatives want to have conversations with as many members as possible…..”

I certainly hope transparency will be the new flavor of the day and is not just some promise of empty rhetoric.  So far the lack of transparency has not been the trademark of WTU Chief Negotiator Elizabeth Davis. After two plus years of negotiations, we are long overdue for regular updates.

We cannot remain complacent when it comes to teacher contract negotiations like many teachers did during the 2010 sellout contract negotiated by former WTU President George Parker and AFT President Randi Weingarten. What I hope to show here in this article  is that we must learn to interpret political double-speak because oftentimes we are given only partial truths, albeit from elected leaders. Feel free to use some of my questions posted here as a guide when asking questions about WTU contract talks.

On Tuesday, November 10th we will hold our next WTU Representative Assembly meeting at McKinley SHS @ 430 pm where teacher contract talks will be the subject on the agenda. Come prepared to ask the tough questions for which you want answers. Hope to see you there.

© Candi Peterson, 2015

Oct 19, 2015

Three Years And Counting, And No WTU Contract for You!



By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

Mass emails were sent out to many DC Public Schools teachers on the Columbus day holiday to their DC government email accounts and some personal email accounts from a relatively unknown teacher who refers to himself as Coach Spinner.  You may recall Coach Spinner as he ran against me for WTU General Vice President position on the Saunders slate in 2013 and lost.

The subject of the email sent to members was titled the “New WTU” and introduced readers to a blog which harshly criticizes current WTU President Elizabeth “Liz” Davis for failing to address Impact-teacher evaluation system, financial malfeasance and failure to get a union contract which is the union president’s primary responsibility as the “Chief Negotiator.”

Based on a little digging, I have learned that Coach Spinner is a campaign surrogate for former WTU President Nathan A. Saunders who lost his bid for presidency in 2013. So it seems according to a former WTU staffer now working for him, Saunders wants another shot at the WTU presidential seat. No surprise here.

When I asked union members if they knew who Coach Spinner was their typical response was they did not know him. One of the current WTU Executive Board members who requested anonymity agreed that she didn’t know the person sending her the email about the new WTU. She said, “I thought someone had fed him (Coach Spinner) information because he seemed to know a lot about the state of WTU affairs.”

Using a surrogate in politics is a common practice to launch an election campaign. The surrogate is usually someone who can step in and deliver a message on behalf of the candidate, rally the supporters and in this case represent a failed brand. 

One might ask why Saunders' would need a campaign surrogate? I think the Saunders’ team is likely using this surrogacy as a strategy because they don’t want teachers to remember the wreckage Saunders' left behind during his years as elected WTU officer from 2007-13. Putting his former running mate with little to no name recognition, out in the forefront is a way to deceive the union membership.

As you may recall, Saunders' refused to gracefully exit the WTU headquarters in 2013  at the end of his term (June 2013) and extended his stay an additional 30 days in violation of the WTU Constitution and By-Laws with the blessings of his Saunders-friendly election committee. I covered that story on The Washington Teacher blog.

Saunders refused to cooperate with a former WTU Executive Board while General Vice President in his second term, and was later exiled back to the classroom for failure to provide the board the requested accounting of the work he had performed on behalf of members, while an officer.  

I believe Saunders also lost credibility with teachers when he summarily dismissed me as the General Vice President in 2011 without due process and robbed members of their vote. This decision on Saunders’ part, sanctioned with the approval by the then WTU Executive Board cost our union hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees alone. By the way, Coach Spinner was a member of the WTU Executive Board who rubber stamped Saunders’ request to oust me. I think one of the main reasons Saunders wanted me out was because he preferred a top down management style where he alone could rule with an iron fist...

While some of Coach Spinners' accusations against WTU President Liz Davis are accurate, they only represent half-truths.  

President Liz Davis can’t be let off the hook for not being transparent about the current state of union affairs, the status of contract negotiations or what has happened to the VEBA (Voluntary Employment Beneficiary Association account funds for eligible retiring teachers) and why the District has refused to provide anymore VEBA payments to the WTU since 2013.

Davis has vacillated about what the real problem is with contract talks and has not been totally honest. Initially, Davis blamed the Chancellor for failing to regularly meet with the contract negotiations team.

What Davis has not disclosed to members, is that she failed to cultivate a working relationship with Chancellor Henderson and her team from the outset. When President Davis refused to attend bi-monthly meetings with the chancellor’s team, this set the stage for a break down in union/management communication. Davis later aborted central office meetings I attended in order to resolve teacher issues claiming it compromised contract negotiations. Open communication with management is vital to the success of negotiating any contract and resolving teachers' issues.

Members have been recently informed by Davis that a mediator will be brought in to assist WTU and DCPS with contract talks with no details about the impasse that led to need for a mediator. As a non- member of the contract negotiations team, I think it is important for members'  to understand what has actually transpired.

Certainly members should demand transparency and accountability from President Davis. Union members have the right to know the status of the unions' financial affairs and all other matters...  Members also have an obligation to request to see detailed financial records, bank statements, mortgage loan statements, internal auditor reports, proof of WTU staff/officer’s income, expenses and benefits, Executive Board meeting minutes, copies of VEBA bank statements and other forms of documentation, etc.

My problem with Saunders and Spinner is that, they don't have 'clean hands' and certainly neither of them should be the ones to point the finger of blame at anyone.

Here are some important information about Saunders:
*Saunders didn’t deliver a teacher contract during his term as union president from 2010-13

*Saunders did not address many of the IMPACT teacher evaluation issues despite his campaign promises

*Saunders fell behind in dues payments to AFT in 2013, our parent organization leaving WTU at risk for an administrative takeover

*Saunders allegedly paid himself more than his 2010 board approved salary of $160,000 and appears to have paid himself as much as $240,000. However, given that WTU President Liz Davis did not proceed with conducting a forensic audit, we can’t be sure of how much beyond this was spent.

*Saunders did not leave $1.7 million in the VEBA account as reported! This money had not yet been forwarded to WTU prior to Saunders’ departure at the end of July 2013.

*Saunders left WTU with an office building that is strapped in debt with 3 mortgage loans totaling 4,885,904, almost 5 million dollars. The Pennsylvania Avenue historic building is a money pit. A construction loan had to be converted to a mortgage loan.  A second mortgage loan had to be guaranteed by our parent organization, AFT. There is a financial covenant which requires a minimum debt service coverage ratio. There has been no default of the loan to date, however, under Davis there have been violations of the debt covenant which the bank has agreed to waive.

Certainly, it is highly probable that we could have found a building in Washington, DC much cheaper than the 5 million dollar price tag of our current headquarters. The extensive cash reserve (a million plus) left over when former President George Parker vacated office in December 2010, no longer remains in the union coffers, thanks to Saunders.

When I spoke to 42-year veteran DCPS teacher, Emily Washington about the unfolding of events, she asked, “Why now? Saunders’ timing is suspect and it represents Déjà vu all over again.  People who want this office sit on their butts until it’s time to have another election.  Saunders and Coach Spinner certainly have had the opportunity to bring these issues up before now. You never see them at union meetings, or  any of the union sponsored events. In fact, since the Saunders' and Spinner's defeat, they have been conspicuously MIA (missing in action).  We need to re-examine who gets elected as an officer and who gets elected to the executive board.”  

My conversation with Ms. Washington echoed how I have been feeling for some time. I agree that the functionality of an organization is tied to its officers, its’ executive board, as well as its' members. If a board is dysfunctional then it affects what happens within the organization.

As an outspoken union member and officer, I've been frustrated on the union Boards that I have served on and often felt like some board members were more concerned with remaining loyal to the president than abiding by our unions' Constitution and by-laws. I have been a lone dissenter followed by one or two others willing to challenge the status quo.

There is an obligation on the part of all union members, especially our elected officials to ask the necessary critical questions, to speak up, to be transparent with the membership and to make the tough decisions required of a governance body in the face of unethical leadership, suspected malfeasance or impropriety, not just at election time.


© Candi Peterson, 2015