More than 50 Carrboro High School students walked into a General Assembly work session this week, holding up signs to support their teachers.
As the students entered the meeting room almost all heads turned. The signs said, “I don’t want my teacher to move to …” with a different state added on to each sign.
Afterward, the students stood side-by-side on the walkway so departing lawmakers would see their protest.
Leah Abrams, Carolyn MacLeod and Tejal Patwardhan, 10th graders, said they were shocked to learn most of their science teachers could be leaving for better-paying jobs elsewhere.
The school district confirmed two of the teachers have already resigned. One science teacher left during the middle of the school year.
Ray Thomas, a science teachers who is staying, said three other teachers have expressed interest in leaving, mostly because of teacher pay and the lack of respect they feel from current legislation.
The teachers’ salaries range from $40,000 to the longest-tenured science teacher who makes $68,000. Thomas, who has a Ph.D. and has 20 years experience in education, makes $61,000. He said he hasn’t received a raise in five years.
When the students found out their teachers’ salaries they were outraged, the students said.
“There are teachers whose (own) kids receive free and reduced lunch, and we think that that’s a crime,” Abrams said. “Teachers are really valuable to society because they teach us, and we felt we should do something about it.”
“The changes to our education that are affecting us now are just not OK with us,” said MacLeod. “We feel that it is a right to have an education that is equal to one you would receive in any other part of the country, and we feel that that’s not happening.”
Patwardhan said she will not be returning to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district next year because her teachers are leaving. She said she will attend the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.
North Carolina ranks 46th out of the nation’s 50 states in teacher pay.
Senate Republicans have proposed an average pay increase of 11.2 percent in exchange for teachers giving up their tenure and longevity pay. Teachers who decide to keep their tenure would receive no pay increase in the proposed budget.
The teacher tenure law protects teachers who have worked at a particular school at least four years. Firing a teacher with tenure requires “just cause,” and teachers may request a hearing.
Tom Brown, who has been teaching in the district for 31 years, will also be returning to Carrboro High next year. But he said he too is unhappy.
“It makes me sad because I’ve worked with some of these people for 10 to 15 years and they’re colleagues, and I value working with them,” Brown said. “To see them leave it makes it a sad day for me in North Carolina.”
Thomas and Brown both said they support their fellow teachers’ decisions.
“You’re going to get what you pay for,” Brown said. “Chapel Hill is a system that takes care of its teachers. If we’re losing teachers, then what about other counties with less money? I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Ending career status or teacher tenure, Republican lawmakers say, will help weed out low-performing teachers.
Two weeks ago, a Wake County judge ruled that eliminating teacher tenure from teachers who have already earned it was unconstitutional.
However, with the exception of Durham and Guilford counties, which sued the state, local school boards in North Carolina are required to offer four-year performance-based contracts to the top 25 percent of nontenured teachers for the 2014-15 school year.
Those teachers will receive an additional $500 in base pay the first year, rising to $2,000 by the fourth year.
Ending tenure will make North Carolina a less atrractive state for teachers to work in, said state Rep. Graig Meyer.
“Teachers want to feel respected overall,” said Meyer, the former director for student equity and volunteer services for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district. “So the idea that you can buy teachers off with a higher rate of pay but pulling out other forms of respect for them by taking away their job security, taking away their ability to manage the classroom … that makes teachers not want to come here.
“Not just because of pay, but because they’re not going to be valued as professionals.”