NC teachers revolt against trading tenure for bonuses

March 4, 2014 

There are indications that some boards of education in North Carolina may take lawmakers to school over attempts to get teachers to trade their tenure for modest bonuses. Good for them. The law that Republicans passed forcing school systems to encourage 25 percent of their teachers to give up tenure before it officially ends in 2018 is an affront to our educators.

Lawmakers are hoping the lure of a $500 raise in each of the next four years will get eligible teachers to opt out of tenure before then. It is a bad deal for teachers, who now rank 46th in the country in pay.

Lawmakers would like the public to believe that tenure protects bad teachers. That simplistic notion is pure political maneuvering. Tenure for North Carolina public school teachers, such as it is, simply means that those who get beyond a four-year probationary period get “career status” and are guaranteed a hearing if facing dismissal.

Applause for school boards

It is not a guarantee of lifetime employment, though some Republicans have tried to portray it that way. These are the same lawmakers who are holding a grudge because some teachers and teacher organizations have opposed the cuts to public education that Republicans have made since taking over the General Assembly. In addition, the N.C. Association of Educators has in the past endorsed Democrats in state and local elections.

Payback. Now there’s a good reason to legislate.

Some local school boards are rightly encouraging teachers not to take the bad deal on tenure and bonuses. The Guilford County school board has even filed a lawsuit that other systems might join to fight the law eliminating tenure in favor of new contracts. Wake’s board has backed repeal of the law.

An impossible task

The law falls short for clear and common-sense reasons. School systems are supposed to pick their top 25 percent of teachers to get four-year contracts and $500 raises for the next four years in exchange for surrendering their tenure. Local school officials say it’s virtually impossible to determine the criteria for which teachers would be considered in that 25 percent. That’s especially true in a system like Wake’s, where over 90 percent of teachers are ranked highly in terms of academic growth as determined by a state index.

The law also will hurt teacher morale and student achievement by creating a competitive rather cooperative system that rewards teachers for keeping their best ideas to themselves.

Last week, state Sen. Jerry Tillman, Republican of Randolph County and a budget-writer for education, said pay scales for teachers are likely to change. Once GOP legislators give the newest teachers a couple of planned raises and boost experienced teachers when money is available, as promised by Gov. Pat McCrory, “large across-the-board and step increases are probably not going to happen,” Tillman said.

Instead, Republicans will go to merit raises only. Again, that would be a morale killer, discouraging rather than encouraging teachers to work together. And it likely would mean the state’s overall average pay would continue to be low.

The fair plan: Raise salaries overall to the national average as a starting point. Then offer merit raises on top of that. Nothing less should be good enough for North Carolina’s teachers.

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