Injunction on teacher contracts applies only to Durham, Guilford

jstancill@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2014 

Guilford and Durham school systems do not have to go forward with tenure-ending teacher contracts, according to a judge’s order signed Friday. But other public school districts are in limbo, pending a statewide lawsuit that challenges a law that phases out teacher tenure.

The order by Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton says the recent preliminary injunction only applies in Guilford and Durham – the two school boards that joined in their own lawsuit.

The N.C. Association of Educators has filed a similar lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of eliminating tenure for all North Carolina teachers. That case is expected to go before a Wake County judge next week, when an injunction could stop the contracts elsewhere.

The contracts are part of a state law that ends career status, commonly called tenure, by 2018 for North Carolina public school teachers. In the meantime, school districts are required to offer four-year contracts to 25 percent of their teachers, providing $500-a-year raises in exchange for educators’ giving up their tenure rights.

Across the state, dozens of school boards have opposed the contracts, and some teachers have said they won’t sign away their tenure rights for a bonus.

Doughton handed down a preliminary injunction halting the contracts last month, but the scope of his order was not clear until Friday’s written order.

The office of Senate leader Phil Berger has said it would appeal the order. Berger, an Eden Republican, was a proponent of ending tenure, arguing that it was too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.

But Doughton’s order said the new law was problematic. “The vaguely and obscurely drafted provisions of the 25% Provision appear to provide no discernible, workable standards to guide local boards of education and their superintendents,” Doughton wrote.

For example, the judge reasoned, superintendents would have no way to identify a pool of teachers eligible for the four-year contracts or to select exactly 25 percent of them to receive contracts.

Different school districts have proposed different methods for awarding the contracts, which could leave them vulnerable to legal challenges on the basis of arbitrariness, bias or discrimination, the order said.

Further, Doughton wrote, the school boards stand a “likelihood of success” in prevailing in their argument that the law is unconstitutional. The law appears to require local boards to coerce teachers with promised bonuses to waive their vested tenure rights, the judge wrote.

It would amount to an unconstitutional taking of property rights, Doughton wrote. “By placing local boards of education in a position to impose economic duress upon their teachers, the 25% Provision effectively demands that they violate their duties and oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” the judge wrote.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis issued a statement Friday saying the association was proud of Guilford and Durham school boards in challenging the law, which he said “prevents school districts from recruiting the best teachers, and it unfairly robs teachers of the vested rights to due process that they have earned.”

Ellis said 50 school districts in the state have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of the law. “The strong showing by elected local school boards, and in many cases county commissions, indicates the deep feeling against this misguided law that attacks our best, most experienced teachers,” his statement said.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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