Wendell, N.C. — A provision in the Senate budget calls for eliminating a salary bonus in 2014 for any incoming teacher who has earned a master's degree.
That bonus amounts to a 10 to 15 percent increase in pay for which those teachers would be ineligible. Current teachers with master's degrees wouldn't be affected.
While that provision might cause heartburn for some, the loss of tenure for veteran teachers is what has many longtime educators up in arms over the Senate budget proposal.
Teachers now can earn so-called "career status" after four years of experience. That affords them additional due process protections if a school principal seeks to fire them.
Administrators must provide extensive documentation of poor performance or one of 14 other grounds for dismissal. That involves a series of evaluations, and the teacher must be put on an action plan and provided time and support to improve. A hearing officer gets involved, which leads to more evaluations.
Due process means it can take months to remove a failing teacher.
"Nobody that I know has a job for life," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a former school administrator who wants to make it easier to fire bad teachers.
"I did that many many times with career teachers, but it takes time and determination and guts to do that," Tillman said.
Tom Benton, a Wake County Board of Education member who served as a teacher and principal for decades, said it can be "relatively easy" to remove an ineffective teacher from the classroom.
Dealing with marginal teachers is the bigger challenge, Benton said, so he supports streamlining due process instead of ending it.
"How do you balance out protecting a teacher from some kind of arbitrary, capricious firing against the needs of a principal to remove an ineffective teacher?" he said.
While the Senate plan would allow schools to offer multi-year contracts to only the best teachers, the House has passed a more moderate approach that puts veteran teachers on "non-probationary" status. Under the House plan, a teacher could be fired at will only after receiving negative evaluations for two straight years.
Rich Nixon, a social studies teacher at Corinth Holders High School in Wendell, said he feels he traded high pay for job security by going into teaching, and he's not ready to surrender his tenure.
"It's not that we're trying to protect inadequate teachers. No one wants to do that," Nixon said. "We want the ability to defend ourselves. We want to work."