Wake and Durham school leaders to oppose new teacher contracts

khui@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2014 

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    The legislature this year passed a budget that eliminates tenure in 2018. Meanwhile, school districts will offer the top 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts and escalating $500 a year raises for each of the next four years to relinquish their status.

    In December, the N.C. Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the elimination of tenure. The teachers group urges educators to reject the contract offers.

    In February, the Guilford County school board voted to file its own lawsuit challenging both the new contracts and the elimination of tenure. The lawsuit hasn’t been filed.

Two of the Triangle’s largest school districts are poised this week to publicly oppose the state’s new requirement that systems encourage 25 percent of their teachers to give up their tenure rights in return for bonuses.

On Tuesday, the Wake County school board will vote on a resolution asking for the repeal of the legislation, arguing that it results in an unfair pay structure for teachers. The N.C. Association of Educators hopes Wake school leaders will also agree to file an affidavit in support of a lawsuit that the group has filed against the elimination of tenure for public school teachers.

On Wednesday, the Durham school board will hold a special meeting to vote on joining a separate lawsuit that the Guilford County school board agreed to file against the new contracts and the elimination of tenure. Durham school leaders have already passed a resolution opposing the contracts and agreed to file an affidavit in the NCAE lawsuit.

Through these legal actions, several local boards of education want to countermand the state legislature’s takeover of teacher-pay policy during the past legislative session. The NCAE has typically supported Democratic candidates in state and local elections, while Republicans dominated the General Assembly that passed the current budget, including the changes.

“We believe that piece of legislation is demoralizing for our teachers,” Heidi Carter, chairwoman of the Durham school board, said Monday. “Our board wants to do everything we can to show our support for the teachers who work very hard for us.”

The legislature this year passed a budget that eliminates tenure in 2018. Meanwhile, school districts will offer the top 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts with escalating $500-a-year raises for each of the next four years to relinquish their status.

N.C. districts pass resolutions

State Senate leader Phil Berger argued the new contracts are an extension of the way districts honor their teacher of the year winners. He also pointed to how districts such as Wake and Guilford already offer merit pay to teachers at some schools.

“Many of our school systems, including Wake County, already evaluate teachers and provide merit pay,” Berger said in a written statement. “So we hope Wake County Public Schools will accept these additional state dollars and embrace the opportunity to recognize and reward greater numbers of top performing teachers who make a lasting impact on the lives of their students.”

Since 1971, North Carolina teachers who made it beyond a four-year probationary period earned “career status,” more commonly referred to as tenure. Though the designation did not equate to a lifetime job guarantee, it did come with certain job protections, including the right to a hearing in the event of dismissal.

Berger and other legislative leaders have argued that tenure protected bad teachers while the new contracts will reward good ones with extra pay.

But school boards have complained about how hard it is to determine who should get the contracts. The contracts have to be offered by the end of June. NCAE has urged teachers to reject the contracts.

At least 12 school districts have passed resolutions opposing the new contracts and 13 are working on resolutions, said Ann McColl, general counsel for the N.C. Association of Educators. She said they’re hoping Wake will go an extra step by filing an affidavit in support of the group’s lawsuit.

“We’re waiting to see if Wake will decide to assist us,” McColl said.

Wake’s resolution highlights many of the concerns that critics have raised about the new contracts. It charges that the changes will lead to competition instead of collaboration among teachers and that the 25 percent figure is “arbitrary.”

For instance, Wake’s resolution notes that 91.6 percent of the district’s teachers measured under the state’s Teacher Effectiveness Index exceeded academic growth standards on state exams last school year.

“The selection of only 25% of WCPSS’s teachers pursuant to the 25% Legislation will necessarily require divisive line-drawing among teachers of similar excellence, which could create perceptions of unfairness and further lower teacher morale,” according to the resolution.

The resolution asks that Wake be allowed to keep its share of the $10 million set aside by the state for raises. The resolution says Wake would use its share “as part of a locally-developed compensation plan.”

“We’re trying to be deliberative,” Wake school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said. “We’ll be discussing the resolution. We’ll be hearing from our attorney and teachers about what to do next.”

Larry Nilles, president of the Wake County chapter of NCAE, said a number of the teachers will come to Tuesday’s school board meeting to back the resolution. He said it would send a strong message if Wake, which is the largest school district in North Carolina, were to oppose the legislation.

“The folks I’ve talked to want to know that the school board is behind them,” he said.

But Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh think tank, said that school leaders who dislike the new law would be better using their time to lobby legislators than to pass resolutions or file lawsuits.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer resources to stake out a position that is not necessarily representative of the residents of the district,” he said. “They’re staking out a position that represents a portion of the population. I’m thinking there are a lot of residents who think changing the tenure law is a good thing.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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