Smithfield Herald

Johnston charts own course on tenure

Like other school boards in the Triangle, the Johnston County Board of Education opposes the end of teacher tenure.

But unlike other boards of education, the Johnston school board isn’t passing a resolution stating its opposition.

School leaders here say a resolution is unnecessary, but some teachers disagree.

Before state lawmakers changed the law last summer, teachers were eligible for tenure after four years. Tenure meant a teacher could still be fired but only with a hearing and for a specific list of reasons.

With the change in law, teacher tenure officially disappears in 2018. In the meantime, school districts are awarding four-year contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers. The contracts come with a pay bump of $500 a year. But the legislature didn’t tell principals how to select their best teachers, and critics say the contracts pit teachers against each other.

On March 14, the Johnston County Board of Education sent a one-page letter to school staff stating its opposition to the contracts. The board added that it wants lawmakers to give all school employees a raise and reinstate extra pay for advanced degrees.

Other school districts have gone a step further. The school boards in Wake, Durham, Orange and Chapel Hill-Carrboro have all passed resolutions against forcing principals to name the top 25 percent of teachers. Durham has even joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the changes.

Rich Nixon, head of the Johnston County Association of Educators, said a letter isn’t enough; he would like to see the Johnston County school board pass a resolution. “It puts the school board on record,” he said.

According to the N.C. Association of Educators, more than 40 school boards across the state have passed a resolution.

“The more school boards that do this, the harder it is for leaders in the General Assembly to excuse the creation of these contracts by saying this is what the public wants, this is what school boards want,” Nixon said.

In an email, Johnston school board chairman Larry Strickland said the board had sent a copy of its letter to the county’s legislative delegation. “The board believes this letter can be an instrument of change and that the legislature will take note,” he said.

When asked about Nixon’s wish for a resolution, Strickland said: “Although I respect his point of view, I am not sure what a resolution would do that our letter hasn’t already done. We have gone on record opposing the legislation as it is written, and we are committed to providing adequate resources for our students and staff.”

Nixon said the board had not gone on record. “I don’t interpret this as going on record because on record would be ... actions that are done by the school board,” he said. “Such as things that take place in these meetings that are recorded and documented. That’s the record.”

Nixon said he’s heard from many teachers who feel the same. He added that he appreciates the school board’s stance and is glad the board wrote the letter.

“All we’re really asking is just take that and pass it and adopt it as a resolution so we can add Johnston County to this growing list of county school boards,” Nixon said.

Strickland said the board doesn’t usually pass resolutions unless they are associated with a student organization like Future Farmers of America Week. “Our message is that we support our employees and public education,” he said. “It is the board’s view that a letter is more personal for our employees.”

Wake County’s school board passed its resolution against the tenure changes. Chairwoman Christine Kushner said her board wanted to make a statement, to tell lawmakers its point of view and to outline the facts and effects of the law.

“(The board) wanted to be on the record and also have a statement that was voted on by all the board members,” she said. “We passed it unanimously, so for me, as chair, it's important that I have a statement that I can say we agreed on.”

“So that’s why I think a resolution was important, instead of just having each of us take turns and talk about why we don’t like it,” she said.