Wake County school leaders are weighing whether to restore any of the due-process rights that state legislators have removed from teachers as part of their effort to eliminate tenure.
The General Assembly passed changes last year that prevent any additional teachers from receiving career status, also called teacher tenure. The changes included eliminating requirements that teachers get reasons in writing for why they’re not being rehired and being able to request a hearing before the school board to appeal their case.
No decisions were made at a committee meeting Tuesday, but Wake County school board members expressed their willingness to study protections for experienced teachers who don’t have tenure.
“We believe we can have contracts that will make the teaching profession a little more attractive than it necessarily has been,” said school board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee. “I think I hear we need support for thinking about the difference between beginning and experienced teachers.”
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Since 1971, North Carolina teachers who made it beyond the first four years of a probationary period were granted tenure.
But as part of last year’s budget, the General Assembly voted to eliminate tenure for all teachers by 2018. A spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Tuesday that he was unavailable for comment.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled in May against the retroactive elimination of tenure. He also struck down the legislative requirement that school districts offer four-year contracts with bonuses to 25 percent of their teachers.
But Hobgood left in place the provisions saying that tenure could no longer be provided to teachers who hadn’t yet attained it. The ruling means all teachers without career status are working on one-year contracts until at least 2018 when they could be offered up to four-year contracts. Additionally, teachers who already have tenure in North Carolina will lose it if they transfer to another district in the state.
Hobgood’s ruling is being appealed. But in the meantime, districts need to modify their teacher contracts.
Leanne Winner, the chief lobbyist for the N.C. School Boards Association, said the organization has told school boards they can still offer non-tenured teachers the same due-process rights they would have gotten if they had earned career status.
The John Locke Foundation, a conservative Raleigh think tank, had supported eliminating tenure but had questioned the legislature’s implementation of the change. Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the Locke Foundation, said in an interview that school districts should hold off on making any decisions until the appeals are heard out.
On Tuesday, the state’s largest school system kicked off discussion on how to react to the changes in state law.
“Is there a way for a district on its own to create some assurances that may go beyond what the law dictates?” Wake Superintendent Jim Merrill said. “That’s what we’re struggling with.”
Doug Thilman, Wake’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said they’ve been reassuring teachers on one-year contracts that if they perform well, they needn’t worry about losing their jobs.
Thilman said they’re recommending that teachers still receive written reasons for not being rehired to promote confidence that educators won’t be dismissed arbitrarily.
Neal Ramee, an attorney for the school board, said the board can also decide to give a hearing to teachers whose contracts aren’t being recommended for renewal.
Martin said they need to offer fair contracts in order to recruit teachers.
“We can’t put in place a contract that is just sort of tough-nosed, ‘We can do whatever we want to and you will be our serfs,’ functioning environment,” he said.
Larry Nilles, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, praised the school board for having the discussion.
“It’s really good news that the school board is talking about finding some policy solutions to problems created by recent legislation,” said Nilles, who attended the committee meeting. “They’re asking hard questions.”