Wake County school leaders are developing an alternative model for paying teachers that they hope will persuade state leaders to abandon offering bonuses to some teachers to encourage them to give up their tenure rights.
Under a new state law, school districts have until the end of June to offer contracts with $500-a-year bonuses to 25 percent of their teachers to entice those educators to give up their tenure status. Wake school leaders say they’ll have a proposal for the General Assembly when it reconvenes in May that they’ll offer as a replacement to the new contracts.
“At the end of the day, something is going to get done,” school board member Keith Sutton said Monday. “If there’s a way we can have a role, have an impact, have influence as the largest district in the state, we need to be a leader and take advantage of that.”
The new contracts are part of the state budget adopted last year that phases out tenure for all teachers by 2018. In the meantime, the new four-year contracts are being required as a way to get some teachers to voluntarily surrender their tenure.
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Republican legislative leaders argued the elimination of tenure, which guarantees experienced teachers due process rights if districts try to fire them, would weed out bad educators. They also said the new contracts would reward top teachers with extra pay.
But the N.C. Association of Educators has urged teachers to reject the contracts. The group has also filed a lawsuit against the elimination of tenure.
School districts around the state have passed resolutions opposing the new contracts, arguing it’s unfair to only give more pay to a few teachers.
The Durham and Guilford school boards filed a lawsuit last week asking a state judge to block the issuing of the new contracts.
Wake opted not to join the lawsuit. Instead, school leaders passed a resolution earlier this month calling for a repeal of the new contracts. The resolution asks that Wake be allowed to keep its share of the statewide $10 million pot for bonuses “as part of a locally developed compensation plan that will be used to recruit and retain professional teachers.”
Amid the backlash, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said he’s looking at whether changes might be needed in the law.
At the first meeting Monday of the Wake school board’s new government relations committee, Sutton said the district has a small window for coming up with something to show to state leaders.
“When the opportunity comes, we need to be ready,” said Sutton, the chairman of the new committee.
Given the short time frame, Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill told board members that staff couldn’t have a full plan ready by then. But he said that they could have a “framework” to share with legislators.
“The meat would still need to be put on the bones,” he said.
Sutton asked his colleagues for ideas on what a new plan should include.
School board member Jim Martin, a professor at N.C. State University, suggested looking at how the UNC system has different career paths, such as professor, associate professor and assistant professor. He also suggested using a model based on peer evaluations as opposed to relying on standardized test results.
Martin said any new plan should recognize that teachers are underpaid.
“This is an investment, not an expenditure,” he said. “This is an investment. You get what you pay for."