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Longer Academic Year At 11 D.C. Schools Draws Complaint From Teachers Union

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A student works at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Northwest D.C. It's one of 11 schools that will have a longer academic year in 2016-17.
U.S. Department of Education via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/nw7uUY
A student works at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Northwest D.C. It's one of 11 schools that will have a longer academic year in 2016-17.

The Washington Teacher's Union, which represents educators in D.C.'s traditional public schools, says it plans to file a labor complaint against the school system because it is extending the academic year from 180 days to 200 on some campuses.

There are more than 360 teachers at the 11 affected schools, and many of them are not happy about the decision, says Elizabeth Davis, who heads the union. But they're worried about keeping their jobs.

"Now they're being told if you're not willing to stay and be a part of the extended-year program you have to leave," Davis says. "It's unfair and it's very frustrating."

Davis says the decision, which applies to the 2016-17 school year, was made without any collaboration with the union. The union plans to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the Public Employees Relation Board.

But DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson insists the move doesn't require collective bargaining. Teachers will be paid for the month of extra work, she says. (Henderson and WAMU 88.5's Kavitha Cardoza appear on The Kojo Nnamdi Show at noon Thursday.

"We want to be very clear, we're not Chicago where were asking you to work more but we're not going to pay you anymore," Henderson says. "We believe that compensating our teachers and staff members is incredibly important."

Henderson says she has heard from teachers who say they're happy they can now have regular breaks during the school year and go on vacation at times when it's not so expensive.

She also says teachers have a choice. They can always apply to transfer to another school if there are vacancies.

"In a worst-case scenario, if you cannot find another placement you are happy with, you can take a $25,000 buyout," she says. "Or if you want to stay in the District, you can stay for a whole year to find another job and we will pay you and employ you as a teacher." Or they can take early retirement, she says.

To be eligible for those options, teachers would have to be considered "effective" at their jobs and have worked at DCPS for more than two years.

Davis says some teachers may be able to use those options, but many can't.

"A lot of the teachers in those schools are new teachers. They would not qualify for some of those options," she says.

April 1 is the deadline for teachers to decide whether they want to remain in their current school.

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