Point of View

Guilford board brave for supporting teachers, refusing 'top 25 percent' law

February 18, 2014 

Education is an unusual profession. The standards teachers are held to are determined more often by legislators than by our own professionals and research. The current logic coming out of Raleigh is that, to improve education, administrators need ways to get rid of “bad” teachers. The real question should be: What are we doing to keep good teachers?

The idea that experienced teachers are “bad” and that, in order to “fix” education, we need to get rid of older teachers and replace them with younger (cheaper), shining stars would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

When the Guilford County Board of Education unanimously refused to implement the new “top 25 percent” teacher-contract legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly, teachers wept tears of joy. Teachers and school boards are often not natural allies but finally, after a seemingly unending series of attacks, someone came to our defense. The board’s resolution called out these contracts as being “arbitrary and capricious” and detailed numerous legal reasons why the board could not comply.

Public school teachers have workplace protections in our contracts called career status. Often referred to as tenure, career status guarantees a teacher due process rights before being fired.

In an effort to avoid pushback from robbing teachers of career status, lawmakers cooked up a scheme by which teachers voluntarily give up their earned rights for a $500 bonus for each of four years. Complicating matters, administrators are to pick only 25 percent of those who volunteer to sell off their career status rights. Simply put, teachers are being pitted against one another in order to get a piddly bonus instead of getting a real plan to raise our 46th-in-the-nation salaries to the national average.

Why not instead focus on teacher retention? Teachers are leaving North Carolina, and with good reason. Our generous nature and polite demeanor have been mistaken for weakness. Many have already left, and others are watching to discern what the future may hold.

No one can be blamed for leaving for greener pastures, but many have decided to stay and stake a claim to fight for what is best for us and our students. “Decline to Sign” is a teacher-led initiative gathering commitments from teachers across the state who refuse to sign the unfair “top 25 percent” contracts. This is a bold but necessary step in reclaiming our profession. Coupled now with the refusal of a school board to comply with the unfair law, we are part of an undeniable movement for public education that the General Assembly would do well not to ignore.

The Guilford County Board of Education should be commended for its bravery and for doing the legal heavy-lifting in defending our profession. After the board’s decision and our uproarious applause, board members asked us to be seated and then gave us, the teachers, a standing ovation. It brought tears to our eyes and gives me chills even now. We are not alone. Organizing and standing together works. We can win.

Guilford set a tremendous example. This victory must be replicated across all of North Carolina to send a clear message to lawmakers that we will not accept or abide by this unjust and illegal 25 percent contract law. We must demand that public education be fully funded and demonstrate that we will not stand for these brazen attacks on an institution that benefits us all.

Todd Warren is a Spanish teacher at Guilford Elementary in Greensboro.

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