03 July 2008

Only if they're smoking Rhee-fer...

Borrowing another classic move from conquerors everywhere, Chancellor Rhee has proposed a contract that would essentially split the Washington Teachers Union into two opposing camps. She proposes a "red" track that would maintain a traditional contract based on tenure and seniority with modest pay increases and a "green" track that would end seniority and tenure and offer far greater financial incentives in return. In other words, those green tier employees would trade their collective bargaining rights and long-term stability for the possibility of a big payday. Here's how the Post describes it:
Under the proposal, the school system would establish two pay tiers, red and green, said the union members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. Teachers in the red tier would receive traditional raises and would maintain tenure. Those who voluntarily go into the green tier would receive thousands of dollars in bonuses and raises, funded with foundation grants, for relinquishing tenure.

Wait...how will those bonuses and raises for the greenies be paid for? Oh, foundation grants...well that's interesting. So the money's not actually budgeted for Rhee's promises, but is rather tied to the whims of outside foundations. The three foundations that the Post names are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Broad Foundation; none of the foundations cared to confirm that story.

The Broad Foundation is a big player in the public schools these days, having bankrolled the New Leaders for New Schools among other para-educational organizations, and according to Susan Ohanian, their education initiatives skew heavily toward business-oriented concerns and involve a good bit of log-rolling:
According to the Broad Foundation website ( http://www.broadfoundation.org ), its plan is to "redefine the traditional roles, practices, and policies of school board members, superintendents, principals, and labor union leaders to better address contemporary challenges in education." Broad's deep pockets mean it gets to define those challenges. Follow Broad money: A pattern emerges of business and foundation money moving in on local elections. Founder Eli Broad was influential in getting the Los Angeles superintendency for former Colorado governor Roy Romer, and it's no coincidence that the Broad Foundation gave its first urban ed prize to Houston -- with Rod Paige at the helm. A tight circle of backslapping and influence peddling reigns.

Nice. But let's assume nothing but good intentions from these foundations (Dell? OK, it's a long shot, but let's suspend disbelief...). Are these grants given in perpetuity? Or until DC can come up with its own funds to pay for the bonuses, which according to the Post could potentially raise a "mid-range" teacher's salary from 62K to over 100K?

Or maybe these grants will last long enough to bust the teachers union.

At any rate, the Washington Teachers Union will have to be smoking plenty of Rhee-fer to go along with this plan, for the following reasons:

  1. The union will essentially cease to function as a union once differentiated salary tiers go into place -- the groups will be divided against one another and will no longer have mutual interests and goals, which is precisely Rhee's intention.
  2. The "green" tier teachers will no longer have job security. While Rhee pays lip service to things like rewarding excellent performance, her track record with the employees she now has power over (for instance, the principals) indicates that excellent performance reviews are no guarantee that you will keep your job.
  3. Her plan to pay for bonuses through grants means there's no guaranteed source of funding for these promises...which of course makes it of a piece with most of her other promises, or as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle.


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