Wake and CMS school leaders complain about loss of teacher tenure

khui@newsobserver.com ahelms@charlotteobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

  • What happens this school year?

    School boards are required to offer four-year contracts with $5,000 raises to 25 percent of the teachers who’ve taught in their districts for the last three years and who were rated as “proficient” under the state’s evaluation system.

    The State Attorney General’s office issued an opinion Wednesday saying everyone paid under the state teacher pay scale – such as guidance counselors, media coordinators, social workers and psychologists – is eligible for the multiyear contracts.

    By June 30, 2014, teachers across the state must decide whether to accept the offer. Tenured teachers who take the contract will surrender their career status.

    Tenured teachers who reject the contract or who aren’t offered one will keep their career status until July 1, 2018. Non-tenured teachers who aren’t offered the four-year deal would get one-year renewable contracts.

    The four-year contract offers won’t be repeated until 2018.

Leaders of North Carolina’s two largest public school systems charge that state legislators made a bad decision when they replaced tenure with a system that will have teachers competing for a small number of four-year contracts.

The General Assembly voted this year to eliminate teacher tenure in 2018. In the meantime, school districts across the state are being required to identify which educators will be offered a $5,000 pay raise as part of a four-year contract if they give up their tenure. Roughly one-quarter will be offered the four-year deal.

Some of the most vocal complaints are coming from the Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg school systems. Like their counterparts across the state, the large systems are searching for a way to carry out the new state requirements.

“I’m hoping the General Assembly will talk with educators and look at the long-term consequences – both intended and unintended – of this legislation before it does irreparable harm that will take years and years and years to fix,” Wake County school board member Kevin Hill said Tuesday at a school board meeting.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison said the four-year contract and bonus plan has raised a host of questions, and threatens already-rocky teacher morale.

But backers of the change say it provides meaningful education reform by basing job security and pay on performance. They say the old system of giving tenure and then basing pay on seniority rewarded ineffective teachers.

“Only in the warped world of education bureaucrats and union leaders could a permanent $5,000 pay raise for top-performing teachers be branded as a bad thing,” Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for state Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said in a written statement.

Historically, North Carolina public school teachers who have passed a four-year probationary period have earned tenure, called career status.

Weeding out bad teachers

Critics of the system, such as Berger, have pointed to the firing of 17 tenured teachers in the 2011-12 school year to argue that too many bad teachers are still being employed. But supporters of tenure argue that it protects good teachers from being fired unfairly, and that many bad teachers are encouraged to resign.

Starting July 1, 2018, North Carolina public school teachers will receive contracts of between one and four years. Teachers will work under contracts that are renewed based on performance – like nearly every other profession, Auth said.

Some changes go into effect now, such as offering four-year contracts to some educators.

A big question concerns how to determine which teachers will be offered the four-year contracts. Superintendents will present a list of names to their school boards, which can modify the list.

Administrators from 10 of the state’s biggest school districts, including Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Durham, Johnston and Gaston, held a video conference Tuesday to talk about the changes.

“You actually have some school districts that are suggesting that they’ll do a lottery because of concerns about legal issues and concerns about morale,” Morrison said.

Auth stressed that the “top 25 percent of teachers” will get the new contract and raises, saying they’re “highly effective teachers.” Teachers must be rated “proficient” under the state evaluation system to be eligible.

But Ann McColl, general counsel for the N.C. Association of Educators, pointed to state statistics showing that 96 percent of classroom teachers were rated as proficient.

It’s a point echoed by school district leaders, who say it’s unfair to offer the multiyear contracts only to a minority of teachers. In Wake County, offers would be made to 2,108 of 8,432 teachers.

“We’re all very confident that more than 25 percent of our teaching staff are superior teachers,” Wake school board member Tom Benton said.

Morrison said he’d like the legislature to use the money set aside for the raises to boost salaries for all teachers and/or to restore the extra pay for master’s degrees. He said four-year contracts should not be capped; instead, the state should set a standard, and offer those contracts to all who qualify.

Recruitment concerns

School leaders also say the loss of tenure will hurt teacher recruitment. Districts no longer will be able to offer tenure to new hires. Teachers will also lose the four-year contract and extra pay if they change districts.

But Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh think tank that favors limited government, said layoffs of teachers in other states means North Carolina public schools will continue to attract new hires.

Teachers across the state will have to decide later this school year whether to accept the four-year contracts.

“My recommendation to teachers would be, ‘Don’t accept this, and fight this on your constitutional grounds,’” Wake school board member Jim Martin said. “I can’t fight it for you, but this is a constitutional issue that should be fought.”

McColl said the N.C. Association of Educators plans to file a lawsuit contesting the elimination of tenure.

Stoops thinks few teachers will say no to the new contracts. He has both a personal and professional interest as his wife is a Wake County teacher.

“Teachers will choose the security over the uncertainty of their keeping tenure,” Stoops said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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