The District of Columbia's public school teachers, who have been working without a contract or pay increase for five years, deserve vigorous support from DSA and the capital region's broad left to fight against this entirely political resistance by Mayor Muriel Bowser to their just demands.
DC Public Schools teachers have been without a contract since 2012. As a result, there has been no base-level salary increase over a period of time wherein the cost of living in the city has increased quickly. Teachers have been working in good faith for the five-year stretch they have been without a contract. DC's Mayor Bowser and her counsel rejected any and all changes to the contract language and teachers now simply wish to get a decent cost-of-living adjustment and their retroactive pay. The Mayor has stated clearly that she wishes not to give teachers their retroactive pay because she is worried about the precedent that it might set.
The reason for not paying DC Teachers is purely political. The city ended its last fiscal year with a $2.4 billion surplus while the approximate cost of retroactive pay for Teachers would be $45 million. Mayor Bowser is waging a war on Teachers because she knows that they have a no strike clause in their previous contract and can do little to stop her. Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America must support our sisters and brothers fighting for a fair contract as they struggle with fewer and fewer tools of recourse.
Antwan Wilson replaced Kaya Henderson as Chancellor of DC Public Schools in February, and since then has been touring schools to propose a new plan in the coming school year with no mention of financially taking care of DC Teachers. Chancellor Wilson has been asked on a number of occasions his opinion about the contract negotiations and he has a clear party line: He is confident that they will reach an agreement. Teachers do not hold this sentiment. Additionally, Chancellor Wilson's office has been rocked by the scandalous behavior of Henderson, who made special exceptions around the school placement lottery for politically connected staffers. The scandal has been the talk of the DC donor-class, forcing Wilson to ban preferential enrollment for public officials' children.
The scandal is clearly an embarrassment to the Bowser administration. That political elites get around the school lottery that regular guardians are subject to is rich with symbolism. While working class families depend on luck to advance in life, political elites use their connections to cheat the system and steal placements in "better" schools for their children. It's cruel that political elites, already able to hoard wealth and opportunities for their family without the determinant of access to a good, public education, use their privilege to keep working families down.
As Socialists we demand that all people be given the highest quality education, the kind that elites cheat the system for. We believe that education does not involve information being deposited into students' minds, but that education is a liberatory program of genuine collaboration between students and teachers as they mutually engage in the pursuit of knowledge. That vision of education places an incredible demand on teachers, one they are willing to bear, but one that is difficult to bear when they are not financially secure enough to make teaching their only job.
We must support DCPS teachers in their struggle for a fair contract that will allow them to continue to strive for the liberatory promise of a public education. We can support them by putting pressure on Bowser and Wilson to negotiate a fair contract with DCPS teachers. We can put pressure on Bowser and Wilson to do so by using creative tactics that play off of the school lottery scandal.
On August 1st we will have a meeting to discuss our strategy and our first series of tactics. 1616 P Street NW, Suite 150, Washington D.C.
Jared Catapano is a DCPS teacher. Austin Kendall is a Job Corps instructor.