Chapel Hill: Opinion

Robin McMahon: Teachers caught on legislation's slippery slope

We are paralyzed. And it’s not just the recent snow and ice. Laws thrown down from the North Carolina General Assembly targeted at public education have teachers everywhere speechless, frustrated to the point of tears and just plain mad, yet they are worried about speaking out.

As a 20-year veteran in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, a parent of three children who have spent 35 combined educational years in our system and a resident-voter in Chapel Hill, I am going to describe what YOUR teachers are weathering due to state laws passed last August as well as a recent proposal designed to “raise teacher pay.”

The headline in The News and Observer “N.C. losing teachers” at every turn” (Feb. 12, is true, and I fear we are going to lose some more GREAT teachers this year. As several teachers commented about the $5,000 raise for the new teacher proposal, “Do they understand how LONG it took us to go from $30,000 to $35,000 ( 10 years!). There is no recognition of our value as veterans of the educational system.” We are the leaders of the school, running programs, leading teacher teams, and respectfully waiting for our leaders to pay us appropriately. We cannot wait any longer.   

The General Assembly announced its plan months ago to identify the state’s best teachers and award 25 percent of them with a $500 per year bonus and four-year contract in exchange for giving up the job security and right to due process that they had already earned. The remaining 75 percent of teachers would receive only a one-year contract and no bonus.

These divisive 25 percent contracts are being used to bait teachers into giving up “career status” or tenure. Tempted by a minimal, temporary raise after years of frozen salaries, these veteran teachers will be exchanging their right to a hearing if they happen to be disciplined or fired. In addition, all teachers will lose their due process rights come 2018; that is, unless sensible lawmakers right the wrongs of the previous legislative session, or if legal challenges are able to halt these baffling policies.   

Our school district is doing the best it can to follow this law, but its effect is like ice on six inches of snow – it is chilling, paralyzing and dangerous for public education. March 1 looms ominously. That is our district’s deadline to “opt in” for the four-year contract and $500 bonus, which translates to about $25/month after taxes.  

At our school, 25 percent of our teaching staff amounts to 12 people. If more than 12 eligible teachers opt in, our principal will have to choose who gets the “coveted” $500 per year in exchange for a four-year contract and loss of job security as well as due process rights. If fewer than 25 percent of eligible teachers from Smith opt in, those funds will go to another school in the district with a waiting list.

There is no question that well over 25 percent of the staff at Smith Middle are quality educators, and at a faculty meeting months ago we decided to stand in solidarity against this controversial policy.  However, I am acutely aware how difficult it is to raise a family on $33,000, and even $25 a month can help pay bills and put food on the table. Many of us feel like the General Assembly put us in the awkward position of choosing to accept a bit of money because we NEED it versus standing against a policy that is tearing our institution apart from the inside.

How can you help? Write letters to the teachers who have made an impact in your child's education and copy their principals and superintendent. These letters will boost morale and help us understand that we (and our profession) are still valued. Moreover, letters to the General Assembly asking our legislators to rethink these policies is critical if we want to effect change. Your letters will provide the HEART and PROOF of our success in this slippery slope of educational legislation.

Robin McMahon is a French teacher at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill.