Wake Ed

January 8, 2014

Potential risks for NC teachers who give up tenure

Wake County school board members say that teachers should know that if they give up tenure there’s no guarantee that they’ll get the future pay raises from the state and that they might not get tenure back if the state law is tossed out.

How risky is it for North Carolina teachers to give up their tenure status in return for four-year contracts that are supposed to provide $500-a-year raises for each of those years?

As noted in today’s article, the Wake County school board discussed Tuesday a draft proposal from staff to comply with the new state law that phases out tenure. School board members said there were a lot of unanswered questions facing the 25 percent of teachers who will be given the contract offers.

One big question is how guaranteed are those $500 raises. The other big question is what happens to teachers who give up tenure if the new law is thrown out in court.

Teachers are supposed to get raises of $500 for each of the next four years, so that by 2018 they’re getting $2,000 more a year than they now receive. But state funding is only guaranteed for the first year.

“It’s kind of a leap of faith that the General Assembly will continue to fund this,” said school board member Kevin Hill.

Hill said that it might be in the best interests of Wake to say in the new contracts that the additional pay is contingent upon the state providing the funding.

Hill asked if teachers would get tenure back if the state doesn’t come up with the future funding.

School board attorney Jonathan Blumberg answered it was a undecided but fair question to ask. He said teachers would certainly have a strong argument that they should get tenure back should the state reneg by not providing funding.

School board vice chairman Tom Benton said he’s also heard that local school districts might be on the hook for the money if the state cries poverty.

Blumberg responded that’s the contention of the N.C. Associatoin of Educators, which says the contracts are with the local districts. But Blumberg said he’d expect that the contracts would be written contingent upon the state providing the funding.

In response to a statement from school board member Jim Martin, Blumberg also said that they would make clear in the contracts that there’s no guarantee that the teachers would still get the $2,000 after 2018.

The other big question is the impact of the lawsuit that NCAE has filed in state court charging that the elimination of tenure is unconstitutional.

Martin asked if the lawsuit prevails what happens to the teachers who gave up their tenure. He asked if they’d get it back or they’d have to start over again to regain tenure, a process that takes four years.

Blumberg answered that the lawsuit is primarily focused on the elimination of tenure and not on the 25 percent issue. Blumberg said it’s reasonably possible that a court could make a decision that overrules the legislation but the 25-percent piece could remain intact.

Martin said they need to spell it out in any contract whether teachers would have to re-earn tenure.

But Blumberg said he’s worried about giving too much guidance to teachers that is in the realm of the complete unknown. Blumberg said he would want to stick with what the law says and not say take or don’t take the contract.

Blumberg said he doesn’t want teachers to make a decision based on an interpretation from the district that could turn out to be incorrect.

Martin said that there just seem to be so many clauses and conditions that he didn’t think the new contracts are enforceable.

“I feel like we’re being asked to write a nearly impossible contract,” Martin said.

Blumberg said they’ve put together a draft contract that he believes will be legally sound and consistent with the new state law. But he said it doesn’t cover all the uncertainties.

Board member Zora Felton said they need to educate teachers about the contracts. Citing her own experience as a teacher before she retired last year, Felton said that educators don’t remember signing their employments contracts.

“Teachers need to fully understand what they’re signing away and what they’re signing to gain because we sometimes just don’t know,” Felton said.

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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