NC judge halts attack on teacher tenure

May 19, 2014 

Teacher “tenure” was such a strange target. Ask parents of North Carolina’s public schoolchildren what they think of their children’s teachers, and most will answer with admiration. In many cases, parents remember a particular teacher taking extra time with a child to bring him or her up to speed on math or reading.

And visitors to almost all elementary schools notice how so many youngsters hug their teachers at day’s end. Parents everywhere quietly raise cash so teachers won’t have to spend their own money on classroom supplies, but most do anyway.

Are all teachers revered by parents and students? No, but it’s fair to say that most parents appreciate greatly what teachers do for their kids.

So when Republican leaders and lawmakers in the General Assembly ran into opposition from the N.C. Association of Educators and other teachers opposed to an assault on public education, they reacted. Overreacted, to be more precise. They set about ending teacher tenure in North Carolina, mainly to teach a lesson to educators who disagreed with them on public school policies.

Republican leaders said it was a push to weed out bad teachers. But it felt to teachers like it was bullying. And it will, in addition to low pay, hurt public schools by making a teaching job in North Carolina less appealing.

Thankfully, a wiser head has prevailed for now. Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood has ordered a permanent injunction against the law that ends what’s known as career status in North Carolina. It’s actually not really tenure in the sense of the security provided college professors under that label. For the North Carolina public school teacher, career status just means that an experienced teacher has the right to a hearing, to a bit of due process, before being dismissed. It’s not a job guarantee. And it’s not, contrary to the simplistic spin Republicans put on it, a protection for lousy teachers.

Hobgood rightly noted the horrendous flaws in the law. For one thing, it is unconstitutional, Hobgood said, because it “amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property rights in their existing contract” under the state constitution. And the law ordered local school boards and superintendents to offer the top 25 percent of teachers $500 bonuses and four-year contracts to give up their tenure, but it didn’t bother to tell them how to pick that top 25 percent. Such a plan also would further lower morale at a time when the state’s teacher pay ranking is 46th in the country and a likely teacher shortage looms.

No wonder more than 50 school boards around the state want the law repealed.

But not Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tem of the legislature’s upper chamber. No, he’s a champion of the law and said Hobgood’s ruling was a repudiation of “the will of voters statewide” who elected GOP majorities so they’d straighten out public education.

What? The Republicans won a majority so that the legislature would end tenure and change public education? For a judge to do his duty in ruling on the constitutionality of an issue is wrong because it goes against the will of the people?

The senator seems to be saying that the majority party is always right and should be allowed to do whatever it wants to do. That’s not what he said during his time in the minority. In those days, Republicans complained, not without reason, that Democrats ignored the GOP’s elected representatives and anyone who disagreed with them.

And there’s this: Republicans won control of the legislature by being elected by the constituents in their districts. The election was not a statewide, winner-take-all referendum, and in fact Gov. Pat McCrory, who did win a statewide election, has been virtually ignored by his fellow Republicans. He couldn’t even get a bill regulating puppy mills passed.

This very bad law on teacher tenure now is under judicial review. And the courts do not exist to rubberstamp whatever the General Assembly does, a peculiar take on things coming from Berger, who is an attorney and ought to know better.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service