Senate leader Berger proposes changes to teacher employment rules

Senate leader’s bill would end teacher tenure, lengthen school year before adding funds

lbonner@newsobserver.com April 23, 2012 

MLEWIS

Teachers would no longer receive tenure, the school year would be five days longer and third graders who don’t read well would go to a special summer literacy camp.

Those are some of the sweeping changes included in legislation proposed by Senate leader Phil Berger on Monday. The proposed law would make major changes to teacher employment rules, teacher training and student academic requirements.

It builds on ideas that Berger, an Eden Republican, introduced last year. He said the changes were similar to reforms Florida instituted, which included an end to “social promotion” for third-graders who read below grade level.

Berger’s announcement comes as the Republican-dominated legislature is under heavy pressure to ease coming cuts to public schools. School superintendents told legislators and the State Board of Education this month that budget cuts have cost jobs and are reaching the point where quality is compromised.

The three major Democratic candidates running for governor say they want to increase education spending. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is going to put a sales tax increase in her proposed budget, with the revenue funneled toward public education.

Policy changes instead of more money

Berger said policy changes are the right remedy for schools, not more money. In a rare move, Berger put his name on the bill as one of the main sponsors.

“Until we get the policy right, I don’t think the taxpayers of this state are prepared or should be asked to put more money into the public schools than we are presently,” he said.

Berger’s plan, called the Excellent Public Schools Act, has several components:

•  Generally, students who don’t read at grade-level by the end of third grade would not be promoted, although some students could move to fourth grade under certain conditions.

•  Third-graders who aren’t promoted would attend a summer reading camp. Students who are not at grade level after camp will be placed in a reading-intensive class and, if they improve, would be allowed to move to fourth grade in the middle of the school year.

•  Tenure would be abolished and teachers would be employed under yearly contracts.

•  Local districts would be given money to set up their own merit-pay systems.

•  Five classroom days would be added to the school year.

The legislature set aside money in next year’s budget for merit pay for teachers and other state employees. There has not been a determination about how much the local school districts would receive.

The five extra school days would cost $11 million, Berger said, and the first year of the third-grade literacy plan would cost $34 million.

Perdue’s office and the N.C. Association of Educators criticized the plan.

“The new leaders in the General Assembly made deep and unnecessary education cuts that have cost our schools thousands of teachers and teacher assistants – one school superintendent even called those cuts ‘a huge cancer in our budget,’ ” Perdue press secretary Chris Mackey said in a statement. “It’s not surprising that some politicians are trying to distract attention from their harmful cuts by calling for ‘education reform,’ rather than restoring the state’s investments.”

NCAE President Sheri Strickland said in a statement that the bill would not do what’s needed to improve schools.

“While it attacks virtually every aspect of public education in North Carolina, it is woefully short on knowledge and comprehension,” she said.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said the House is interested in the Senate proposal, and will take a closer look during the legislative short session that begins May 16.

“We are open to ideas that promote public education and produce positive outcomes for students and teachers,” he said in a statement.

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