Teachers weigh turning down contract offers
Posted February 3, 2014
Updated February 5, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. — Teachers are considering whether to turn down contract offers this summer as a show of solidarity with colleagues and to protest the state's elimination of tenure rights for veteran educators.
Under a provision in the state budget approved last summer, all public school teachers in North Carolina will be shifted into employment contracts over the next five years that make it easier for them to be dismissed.
The budget provision also directed school districts to pick the best 25 percent of their classroom teachers and offer them four-year contracts, starting this year, which would effectively end their tenure rights a year earlier. All other teachers would be given shorter contracts, with those who have been in the classroom less than four years operating on one-year contracts.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has urged teachers to protest Wednesday against the state's decision to scrap "career status," which gave teachers with at least four years of experience specific due process rights before they could be demoted or fired. The teachers group wants teachers to pledge that they won't accept four-year contract offers, which could earn them an extra $5,000 over the course of the contract.
Rodney Ellis, NCAE president, calls the new system "divisive," saying teachers might not collaborate as much if they are competing for limited raises and job security.
Breanna Tapp, a decorated math teacher at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, agrees that restricting recognition to a quarter of a school's teachers doesn't benefit anyone.
"I think we all bring great things to the classrooms. I think there may be many, myself included, who may be omitted from the top 25 percent," said Tapp, who is nationally certified and is a past finalist for Wake County Teacher of the Year.
Teaching is a collaborative effort, she said, and trying to pick one teacher over another would be too subjective.
"We work together a lot as teachers. We plan lessons together; it’s a joint effort," she said. "I feel like it could tear some departments apart overall, bring the morale down and discourage those who don’t get it. What if you’re in the top 30 percent?"
Sen. Jerry Tillman, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said every industry tries to identify and reward its top performers, and North Carolina schools should be no different.
"They can do it. They don’t want to do it because there may be a hurt feeling," said Tillman, R-Randolph.
The tenure system is outdated and too often protects mediocre teachers, he said. High performing teachers shouldn't worry about job security or salary.
"Every school system has teachers not making progress with their students. A lot of them have tenure," he said. "The public I represent do not want those people to have a lifetime guaranteed position."
Tillman said he doesn't understand the NCAE asking teachers to turn down the money that comes with the four-year contracts at a time when the group is clamoring for higher pay for all teachers.
The protest comes a week after Gov. Pat McCrory's teacher advisory committee recommended that he work to modify the tenure law with "concrete standards" for selecting teachers who receive contracts and bonuses.
The committee's recommendations, released Monday by McCrory's office, said "teachers support the elimination of tenure, as long as there is a career pathway based on a variety of factors and clear, objective standards."
The panel also said the state – now near the bottom in teacher pay – should raise the current base pay for new teachers of $30,800 to make it more competitive with other states. The pay scale also should be front-loaded to focus on the first 15 years of teaching, and annual experience-based increases should be granted only to those who meet proficiency requirements, the report said. Teachers also should be rewarded with higher pay for advanced degrees, which is being phased out, or get money to pay for such a degree, it said.
Those who are offered four-year contracts would get incremental raises of $500 per year – $500 in the first year, $1,000 in the second, $1500 in the third and $2,000 in the fourth, for a total increase of $5,000 over the course of the deal.
Tillman agreed that starting pay for North Carolina teachers needs to be improved, and he said lawmakers would address the issue when the General Assembly reconvenes in May.
"I want to get our beginning teachers a huge increase to be sure we can out-pay Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia," he said.
The NCAE filed suit in December against the end of teacher tenure as well as a law that will allow taxpayer money to be used by low-income students wishing to attend private or religious schools. A handful of school districts statewide also have adopted resolutions urging that the teacher contract plan be repealed by lawmakers.
The North Carolina law made the state the second after Florida to drop tenure protections in favor of employment contracts, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. Teachers in Washington, D.C., also lack tenure rights. Rhode Island allows the teachers to be fired if they have two years of being evaluated as ineffective.
Tapp said she plans to wear red Wednesday as part of the NCAE's "Decline to Sign" protest, but she's unsure whether she would accept or reject a four-year contract, if it's offered. School districts have until July to identify the teachers being given four-year contracts.
"Who’s to say it’s even is offered to me?" she said.