Raleigh, N.C. — A Superior Court judge said Monday that he won't decide for several days whether to uphold or strike down a state requirement that school districts offer a quarter of their teachers multi-year contracts as an enticement for them to give up their so-called "career status" protections.
The North Carolina Association of Educators filed suit in December to block the law, which was a provision in the state budget last year.
A Guilford County judge last month ruled that the law violated the state and federal constitutions. But the ruling applied only to Guilford County Schools and Durham Public Schools, which had filed a separate lawsuit.
NCAE President Rodney Ellis said he's hopeful that Judge Robert Hobgood will halt the law statewide. Hobgood said he wants to review the arguments on both sides of the case and wouldn't have a ruling before Friday.
"I think it’s important for the state to recognize that, for us to have the best educators in our classroom, we’re going to have to provide them with some sort of security," Ellis said.
Teachers who earn career status, commonly referred to as tenure, are given extra due process rights, including the right to a hearing if they are disciplined or fired.
"One of the things you need to consider is the number of teachers leaving our state right now. This is one of the benefits that teachers have – due-process rights protection – that even makes them interested in coming to work in North Carolina," Ellis said.
Lawmakers asked 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 tenure rights. The provision aims to move North Carolina to a performance-based system for paying teachers instead of one based on longevity.
Special Deputy Attorney General Melissa Trippe argued that lawmakers are trying to improve North Carolina's public schools by pushing for the best teachers. While the contract requirement isn't the most popular idea, it's one way to accomplish that, she said.
"The test in this case is not what’s the best thing or what makes the most people happy. It’s what was necessary and reasonable for the legislature to pass this legislation," Trippe said.
Career status fails to give schools flexibility and protects too many mediocre educators, she said.
"The state continues to find ways to improve the educational system."
Narendra Ghosh, the attorney for NCAE, countered that career status already provides 15 reasons for terminating teachers, including poor performance.
Ellis said the contract requirement could wind up giving raises to random teachers – not necessarily the best – which would ultimately affect students.
"We can’t open it up so it becomes school politics, and educators are just in and out of our school building," he said. "We need to have stability and quality educators on a day-to-day basis for the students of north Carolina."