**FILE** Jacqueline Pogue Lyons (WI photo)

Contract negotiations dragged on into the beginning of Thanksgiving break before the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) reached a tentative agreement. This milestone was the culmination of an arduous, monthslong process. 

For more than three years, District public school teachers had been without a contract. At certain points in the negotiations, the WTU and Bowser disagreed about cost-of-living pay raises, planning time and improving classroom conditions.

**FILE** Lewis D. Ferebee (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Months earlier, these points of contention inspired Andrew Haynesworth’s exit from the classroom. 

In June, Haynesworth resigned from DCPS after two years on the job and conversations with veteran teachers who reached their limit. By then, he caught COVID, which was exacerbated by fatigue brought on by a staff shortage, back-to-back standardized tests and attempts to strengthen COVID mitigation protocols. 

Even with a new contract, Haynesworth hasn’t given much thought to returning to the classroom. He said concerns about his health and current leadership have prevented him from considering teaching as an ideal career choice. 

“I truly believe in public schools, but there should be less testing and no STAR rating system,” Haynesworth said. 

“Get rid of that. That didn’t help students. With the current chancellor and mayor, I wouldn’t go back. It has already been three years [since we had a contract]. Did they want seven years [to pass]? Hopefully the union gets what they have been fighting for.” 

The Probable End of a Long Journey

Days before WTU and Bowser reached a tentative agreement, WTU members gathered outside of several District public schools during a “Day of Action” that brought attention to their ongoing battle.  

These after-school gatherings are among the several events that teachers coordinated throughout the year to garner support for a new contract.

The retroactive tentative agreement reached by WTU and Bowser on Nov. 22 includes a 12 % pay raise over four years, a 4 % retention bonus, an increase in an administration premium and the inclusion of vision, dental and legal benefits. 

During a WTU membership townhall on Tues., Nov. 29, teachers learned about their backpay and other provisions in the tentative contract. 

A WTU member speaking on background said teachers under the new contract would receive an increase of $50 in annual startup funds that can be used to purchase classroom supplies. 

Starting this school year, social workers, school psychologists, special education instructors and other in-demand employees would also receive a $1,500 stipend. 

Once WTU members approve the contract, it will go before the D.C. Council. Given the amount of time it took to solidify a new contract, this particular agreement, intended for 2019-2023, would expire by the end of the school year. 

That means an entirely new process would take place within the next six months. 

In a joint statement, Bowser, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons recognized the work of the more than 5,000 DCPS teachers and touted the contract as a means of boosting morale amid an ongoing teacher shortage

At the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year, DCPS had more than 100 staff vacancies. By that time, substitute teachers, and even DCPS central office staff members, entered the classroom. When DCPS announced incentives for retirees to return to the classroom earlier this year, substitute teachers also stood up in demand of higher wages along with protections and benefits. 

In September, Bowser reached a contractual agreement with the Council of School Officers, a group that represents more than 800 school leaders and service providers. They too had been without a contract for a couple of years. The terms of the new contract included a 12.5 % pay increase over four years and extra duty pay supplement. 

On November 23, Pogue-Lyons expressed her excitement about reaching a similar milestone. 

“We love our teachers, and we want Washington, D.C. to be the number one city for teachers — a city where teachers stay at their school and live in the city,” Pogue-Lyons said. 

“Beyond pay and benefits, it was important for this agreement to reflect the district has for teachers and the work they do for D.C. students. We will continue to work together and across government to make sure schools, teachers and students have what they need to do well.” 

A Bigger Question of How to Retain Teachers 

A report compiled by the D.C. State Board of Education last year showed that 25% of District teachers left the classroom within six years — compared to the pre-pandemic national average of 16 %. During a D.C. Council hearing earlier this year,  teachers, librarians and community members offered several suggestions about how to tackle this issue. 

A District parent, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said that the teacher shortage has threatened the consistency in her son’s coursework at Jackson-Reed High School in Northwest. She said he switched out of an overcrowded class that overwhelmed a teacher. 

For this parent, teaching has no longer become an attractive profession, even for those dedicated to the craft. With everything falling back on teachers, not even some parents have a collaborative spirit, the mother added.

That’s why she thinks that, even with a tentative contract, public school teachers still lose some sort of autonomy.  

“Teachers are pigeonholed by rules, regulation and classroom structure,” the parent said.

“Everything is spoon-fed to them which removes creativity and [the ability to] teach children where they are. Teachers feel a need to adhere to rules and schedules which can be stressful especially if classroom performance isn’t where it needs to be.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *