May 30, 2016

DC Teacher Contract 4% Percent Offer Revealed- WTU Prez Davis Finally Comes Clean!

WTU Prez Liz Davis reveals 4% Teacher contract offer
This article recounts information shared by Cardozo Education Campus teachers with Malcolm Lewis Barnes, independent free-lance journalist shortly after attending a recent meeting with WTU President Liz Davis. Disclaimer: Mr. Barnes is also the campaign manager for the Candi Peterson WTU slate 2016.

By Malcolm Lewis Barnes

According to several confirmed sources who attended a May 25th school wide meeting at Cardozo Education Campus, when pressed for answers WashingtonTeachers' Union President Liz Davis admitted that she turned down a 4 percent (4%) offer that was on the table during last year's teacher contract negotiations.

An impatient group of over 40 Cardozo teachers were present last Wednesday who had just attended an afternoon monthly faculty meeting and were later joined by WTU President Davis. Davis declared during the meeting that the 1% raise that Chancellor Kaya Henderson offered was ‘unacceptable.’ Davis revealed at the meeting that late in 2013, there was a four percent offer on the table that she turned down because the chancellor was just beginning to press her initiative on the extended school year.

“Four percent is better than no percent,” said Grace Cooke-Thomas, a special education teacher at Cardozo Education Campus as she expressed her exasperation about the fact that the Chancellor was able to push through the extended school year with nearly a dozen schools, mainly east of the river in wards 7 and 8.

Davis indicated that she didn’t bring the four percent offer to anyone’s attention because she didn’t think it was worth discussing because the WTU  didn’t accept it in light of the extended school year issues being discussed across the board rather than at selected low performing schools.

During the meeting, Cardozo teachers demanded to know, “Where was the transparency? Why were only certain schools being targeted for rallies to bring attention to the 1% offer? And most important, why wasn’t Davis playing a more effective role as a union leader instead of expecting teachers to take to the streets in support of her failed effort to get a contract?’

The Cardozo teachers’ group just got tired of President Davis beating around the bush about contract negotiations and they asked her directly to disclose what’s actually in the contract that she claims she is negotiating.

“I’m a bit frustrated and I’ve seen teachers lose their jobs. I hear a lot of talk but nothing is being done. Teachers don’t want to march and hold rallies because they are being bullied by principals and are afraid of reprisal”, said Ms. Cooke-Thomas.

When Davis suggested that a survey be conducted, the Cardozo staff lost their patience and the group asked to see a draft of the contract that Davis claims she is working on. They demanded to know exactly what was put on the table. Davis declined to provide this information, citing confidentiality

Jody Coates, a special education teacher at Cardozo EC recalled, “I sat with Davis as a member of the WTU Executive Board and I don’t remember Davis ever saying anything about the 4% offer.”

During the meeting, it was reported that majority of teachers became frustrated and irate that the 4% offer was never brought to their attention. Davis was described as defensive and an attempt to rescue her from the heat by a representative of the American Federation of Teachers’ staffer, Allison Crawford was reportedly unsuccessful.

At one point in the meeting, President Davis asked one participant to “shut up” and accused her of being rude. That was followed by a barrage of complaints as teachers demanded to know what action was being taken to get a contract and that Davis should take charge. “I’ve contacted you on a number of occasions and it took you over a month to get back to me,” said Ms. Ball. “You want us to be out front in the rally, but we are asking you to take charge,” said Ms. Cooke-Thomas.

When a key member of the WTU teacher contract negotiations team and Davis 2016 slate candidate for Member at Large, Signe Nelson was asked to get her read on what had historically been on the negotiating table before the contract negotiations team were summarily dismissed and Davis took charge of all negotiations herself, the familiar theme of “blame the Chancellor” rang out.

“Kaya had no intention of negotiating in good faith”, said Ms. Nelson as she went on to deny that Davis ever owned up to the 4% offer. “It’s about changing the narrative that ineffective teachers are the problem. And I’m not confident that will change” concluded Ms. Nelson who seems to represent the defeatist sentiment of the Davis slate that is not optimistic that a contract can get done under any circumstances!

It is not surprising that Chancellor Henderson referred to the state of negotiations, “as the old fashioned way” in her April 21st DCPS budget hearing testimony before DC City Council Education Chair David Grosso.

And the Cardozo teachers’ wondered why Davis was going out of her way on the eve of the WTU elections to rally support, when she couldn’t get a contract done and turned down attractive offers that have been on the table since 2013!

In addition, Cardozo teachers’ felt that Davis’ repeated requests to rally and protest at area schools was falling on deaf ears and that she had not been honest about the Wilson and downtown rally at Thomson elementary school, which were teacher led and mainly by her fellow slate members and supporters in an attempt to salvage her flagging prospects for re-election as her three year term is quickly coming to an end with no contract in sight.

Davis included the following argument in a February 2016 WTU Newsletter: “The mediator demanded that both DCPS and the WTU negotiations teams complete proposals for all contract articles by the close of business on February 24th. 

Now that all proposals have been completed, in an effort to speed up negotiations, we agreed to meet with DCPS without the teachers after the chancellor said providing release time for the teachers on our team was a deterrent to meeting five days a week. 

As negotiations became testy and the mediator could not bring the sides together, Davis dismissed the teacher members of the negotiating team and went solo using the excuse that the Chancellor wouldn’t allow teachers special leave to participate in a 5-day a week negotiation meetings which were unrealistic and a sign of how desperate the Davis contract negotiating position was at that time.

Davis went on to claim in that same February newsletter that, “DCPS's priorities for the new contract include an extended school year.”

"These decisions, and other contract language proposed by DCPS, would stifle your voice and participation in local school decision-making. Our contract team is determined not to let that happen”.

“It’s not about taking sides at this point, it’s about what’s right. I just don’t see Davis' vision and I don’t believe after three years of seeing her operate as WTU President that she has the knowledge of union logistics. She talks a good game and she’s good on the soapbox, but at last week’s meeting it was kicked out from under her! We simply want a contract”, said WTU Executive Board member Jody Coates.

© 2016 Malcolm Lewis Barnes

May 22, 2016

Rebuilding DC Teachers' Trust Through Transparency

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.

Disclaimer: I am not a member of the WTU Contract Negotiations team.

One of the main problems we as a union have endured over the past nine years with past and current Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) presidents'- is that our leaders’ have not effectively made the switch from "classroom teachers" to union leaders.

Without "vision" or a "strategic plan" beyond their own advancement, they all seemed unable to act in the collective best interest of teachers', once they got elected. It is going to require strategic and substantive short and long-term plans, including the "collective wisdom of members", to "rebuild and re-purpose," if the WTU is to survive.

Effective union leaders must first communicate a clear vision and a strategy to the "rank and file" from the outset. Without a plan, we are like pilots flying by the seats of our pants. Certainly a lack of direction and focus can’t help get teachers’ a union contract; improve teachers’ working conditions, students’ learning outcomes, or the state of public education in general. A plan for rebuilding the union has first to be communicated with sufficient input and buy-in from members.

One of the insights I have gleaned as an active and involved union member – is that our leaders sometimes are their own worst enemy. For starters, collaboration, direct communication and transparency with one’s own management team, members of the Executive Board and rank and file are crucial if a union president is going to achieve any measure of success.

I have learned that if you do not have a "bond of trust" with union members who can help you succeed, then any plans you may have will come to a screeching halt, without a base of support.

Of course, if we are going to rebuild, we must first recognize, understand and accept that the membership is the highest authority in the union. However, if the "rank and file" membership remains passive and apathetic, the union will remain dormant. Of course, it's understandable why our members haven't been fully engaged for some time now. The union hasn't done the hard work needed to get members to want to be involved. The most powerful tool to first "rebuild trust" is simply being open and honest, even when it is painful. Above all else, we must be transparent in all of our communications with members. Not that fake kind of transparency.

Especially when times are tough, we cannot wait until our ship is sinking to let members know that we are in trouble. That is when members most need to hear from union leadership. If open, honest and transparent, an effective union president will work to engender confidence and  empower members to start helping the union overcome challenges through ongoing strategic intervention, not last minute reactive maneuvers.

Allow me to be clear! The WTU PRESIDENT MUST also cultivate a working relationship with DCPS management. As your union president, it will be my responsibility to ensure that happens, not yours as the rank and file, not the media. I must and will devise a way to keep the lines of communication open with Chancellor Henderson and her management team.

That’s why I have included the following as some of the Top Ten campaign platform priorities : [1] a strategic approach to getting contract negotiations done; [2] restoring a member-driven union that respects the rank and file; and [3] open communication with the rank and file that emphasizes transparency, accountability and collaboration with our stakeholders.

In the next week or two you should be receiving your WTU 2016 ballot at your home mailing address. As a candidate for WTU President in 2016,  I am asking for your vote for the Peterson slate so that we can begin rebuilding your trust through transparency, restore our union and get teachers' a negotiated contract after 4 long years! Vote the Peterson slate for next WTU leadership team.

Please take a look at our Peterson slate flyer of "old school and new school" leadership team members, as well as,  our our 10 point campaign priorities on the reverse side below. Flyers are being delivered to schools and placed in teachers' mailboxes.

© Candi Peterson, 2016

May 9, 2016

New Revelations About DC Teacher Contract Negotiations

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.

Disclaimer: I am not a member of the WTU Contract Negotiations team.

Noticeably absent are details in Washington Teachers' Union email blasts about current contract negotiations between WTU and DC Public Schools’ Chancellor Kaya Henderson.  What members have not heard, or read, is why there isn’t a contract after almost three years of negotiations?   That’s a question that should be posed to WTU Chief Negotiator and union president Elizabeth Davis.  

The coverage of DC City Council Fiscal Year '17 Budget Oversight April 22nd hearing was an eye opener for most who viewed it. Education Chairman David Grosso questioned Chancellor Henderson regarding the status of teacher contract negotiations. Mr. Grosso was clear that he wanted to get  Henderson’s response on the record because he had been contacted by teachers through informal channels who thought it was unfair to not get a raise after three plus years. Henderson replied: “We had our final negotiation session with our mediator on April 6th. We determined we could not get to agreement on a number of key issues. We have suspended our negotiations. There is a union election that is happening over the coming weeks and it is probably best to revisit the negotiation conversation after the election happens.” 

Henderson’s answer indicates that the final contract negotiation session was held on April 6. Henderson also stated that the decision to suspend contact negotiations was due to the fact that there was disagreement on a number of important issues that could not be resolved, even with the help of a mediator.

There are two sides to every story. That’s why it’s important for members to know all pertinent allowable details about contract negotiations. Given that our WTU Contract Negotiation team of teachers was recently dismissed by WTU, members aren’t likely to get to the bottom of this debate anytime soon by speaking with teachers/members who were removed from weekly negotiation sessions.  

WAMU radio covered the Wilson High School teacher-led rally on May 6, 2016 organized by Jim Leonard, the schools union Building Representative. The rally was organized in response to suspension of contract negotiations by Chancellor Henderson. Teachers voiced their concerns about the status of teacher contract negotiations and appealed to Henderson to return to contract talks with WTU President Davis.

WAMU Reporter Kavitha Cardoza’s coverage of this rally advanced new revelations about teacher contract talks in her article and podcast. Click on the link to the right to listen to the podcast: “Are DCPS Teachers Due For A Bigger Raise? Negotiations Fuels Protest.” Chancellor Henderson revealed to Cardoza that she offered multiple compensation proposals to WTU for consideration; a well-kept secret by Davis. In a WTU email recently sent to union members, Davis reported that only a 1% raise was offered by Henderson. 

Henderson says, there were multiple proposals on the table — not just the one that called for a 1 percent raise. “By law we’re not supposed to publicly discuss them. But I will tell you the WTU picked the compensation proposal that they thought was most advantageous to publicize,” according to Henderson. Another question worth asking Chief Negotiator Davis is why weren’t rank and file members informed that there were other compensation proposals offered by Henderson? 

The WAMU piece provided some insights that had not been made public before. Over the last years, WTU President Davis stated that Henderson was refusing to meet. The WAMU article revealed:

Henderson says“DCPS has been negotiating with the Washington Teacher’s Union since 2013. “This mischaracterization of 'I don’t want to negotiate for our teachers.' It’s just not true," she says. She says when both sides couldn’t come to an agreement, they brought in a mediator.  But they still couldn’t agree on teacher salaries or how grievances should be resolved.”

In the WAMU story, Henderson gives her rationale for suspending negotiations. Last month Chancellor Henderson decided to suspend negotiations until after the Washington Teachers’ Union holds its internal elections in early June.

Henderson says, “The closer the elections got, the more urgent and the less rational the conversations became, because there are higher stakes right? And so I would like to move past the election season where we can have regular old conversations again." 

No one disputes that teachers deserve and need a long awaited pay raise as well as reasonably agreed upon improvements in working conditions, for which a political strategy is paramount.  However, in order to engender vital and substantive support from the rank and file, members deserve to be told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!  Thus, in the interest of transparency and union democracy, let the TRUTH be told.

© Candi Peterson, 2016