Judge: Stripping veteran teachers of tenure rights unconstitutional

Posted May 16, 2014

— A Superior Court judge on Friday struck down a law requiring veteran teachers to surrender their tenure rights in exchange for multi-year contracts.

Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the law, passed last year as a provision in the state budget, violates the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution and amounts to an illegal taking of property under the state constitution. He issued a permanent injunction against the law and denied the state's request to stay his ruling pending an appeal.

Teachers with tenure, officially called career status, are given extra due process rights, including the right to a hearing if they are disciplined or fired.

Lawmakers called on school districts to identify the top 25 percent of their teachers and offer them new four-year contracts with $500 annual salary increases. In exchange, those teachers would lose their career status protections. The provision aims to move North Carolina to a performance-based system for paying teachers instead of one based on longevity.

The North Carolina Association of Educators sued in December to halt the law, arguing that the state couldn't arbitrarily take away the tenure rights teachers had worked to earn.

"It looks like school boards are off the hook for having to determine what the process looks like to actually identify the top 25 percent – and realistically, more than 25 percent of the teachers in our schools deserve to have career status," NCAE President Rodney Ellis said Friday.

Attorneys for the state argued that the law provides school districts with more flexibility in trying to attract and retain the best teachers. Career status, they said, makes it harder to get mediocre teachers out of the classroom.

Hobgood ruled that the contract requirement "was not reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose" and provided school districts "no discernible, workable standards" for picking the teachers who would receive the new contracts.

"The contractual obligation is present with each public school teacher who has already been awarded career status and has an existing career contract with that teacher’s board of education,” Hobgood said. "The state’s action ... would impair that contract.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who crafted the provision to end tenure, called the ruling "a classic case of judicial activism" and said lawmakers would work to appeal the decision.

"Today, a single Wake County judge suppressed the will of voters statewide who elected representatives to improve public education and reward our best teachers with raises," Berger said in an email.

A Guilford County judge likewise ruled last month that the tenure law violated the state and federal constitutions. But that ruling applied only to Guilford County Schools and Durham Public Schools, which had filed a separate lawsuit.

Ellis called the ruling "a great day for public school educators" and said ongoing court battles between lawmakers and teachers – a lawsuit over a private school voucher program adopted by the General Assembly last year is still pending – "utter madness."

"At some point, we really just need to get all parties at the table to have a conversation about what we really want for public schools in North Carolina. Until we do that, I think you’re going to continue to see this type of situation arise where we’re having to come to court," he said. "It’s a shame that we have to do that, but it’s the reality we live in right now."

Although Hobgood ruled that the state cannot retroactively strip tenure rights from teachers who have earned it, he dismissed a teacher who hadn't yet earned tenure as a plaintiff in the case, leaving open the possibility that lawmakers could prevent teachers from earning tenure in the future.

"Those that are in the pipeline, I don’t think that they will be able to secure tenure in the future," Ellis said.


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  • Jump1 May 19, 2014

    Funny I did not read the same one he did. I think he needs to read the US Constitution again.

  • Forthe Newssite May 19, 2014
    user avatar

    and hidden in the news we find THIS:


    THIS is the problem

  • May 19, 2014

    Best Bumper sticker EVER.
    My Child is an Honor Student.
    My Governor is a (not the brightest bulb in the socket)

  • juliomercado May 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I contend that you know nothing about tenure and the process in NC to remove the rare 'bad teacher' you so vehemently condemn. You say you have had issues with an ineffective or lacking teacher and you settled for being told you could do nothing because they had tenure. I believe that is balderdash, pure and simple. Its entirely possible you were 'blown off' by an administrator that didn't want to go through the process. It is also entirely conceivable that you were in the wrong and the administrator was simply putting out a fire by blaming tenure. Had you the courage and been in the right you could have and should have taken the concerns to the next level: the Board of Education. As political figures I cannot imagine those folks not taking your concerns seriously. To summarize: BS to your comments and or you were either in the wrong or encountered an administrator that refused to his/her job. Either way YOU had recourse.

  • Objective Scientist May 19, 2014

    It is obvious that many who post comments on many/most/all topics of WRAL articles are ignorant of which they speak! All such folks are NOT "bad people"... they simply do not "know what they are talking about"! If an article was about the economics of Outer Mongolia, and I made a strong statement about it... it would be based on little to no information or understanding on my part... in other words - my IGNORANCE! Of course, there are some folks who have the knowledge/information... but choose to ignore it for political reasons. Politics does little to nothing to support accurate information or "truth". Nevertheless folks, if you choose to take a strong stance... at least take the time to gain some knowledge and accurate information before you make your comments. I'm not a NC K-12 teacher, but I once was. I have "studied" education at all levels. I know K-12 teachers, principals, and superintendents. My kids and grandkids went to/are in NC schools. I "know" NC education!

  • Terry Watts May 19, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    But he is not, and your comment is meaningless...

  • dahill001 May 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Good job, who cares, this is about NC teachers and NC law.

  • WakkaWakka May 18, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I wouldn't exactly call teachers' pay & working conditions a "gravy train."

  • Eric Hammond May 18, 2014
    user avatar

    this is not the first time the GOP controlled legislature has attempted to make breach of contract and theft of owed wages legal! and I'm pretty sure it won't be their last attempt!

  • Objective Scientist May 17, 2014

    IGNORANT: -lack of knowledge , information, or awareness of something in particular. Am I ignorant? YOU BET I AM - on many topics! I have possessed enough intelligence, motivation, drive, parental/family support that the degrees I have EARNED put me in the top 1 or 2% in the country for education. Does that mean I know a lot about everything? Absolutely NOT! I know a lot about some things, but there are some things about which I have little-no knowledge... I am IGNORANT about those topics! I am a not "bad" person of poor character... it simply means I do not possess the available knowledge of or information about a particular topic. Many posters call other posters "ignorant"... and after seeing the comment to which they are responding... the word ignorant is often applicable. The issue of tenure for NC K-12 teachers is a good example. Many posters obviously are indeed ignorant of what tenure means for a NC K-12 teacher. To be continued...