Durham school board joins teacher tenure lawsuit

Posted March 5, 2014 5:04 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2014 10:53 p.m. EST

— Durham school board members voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to join a lawsuit over a state budget provision eliminating "career status" protections afforded to veteran teachers.

“If the governor and the North Carolina General Assembly won’t stand up for our children's teachers, then we will,” said Heidi Carter, Durham school board chairwoman. "This 25 percent mandate is not about rewarding excellence in teaching. It's about coercing teachers to give up a right they've justly earned. And that's a right to salary protection and a right to due process."

Durham will join a soon-to-be-filed lawsuit by Guilford County Schools asking for an injunction preventing school districts from implementing the provision. A separate lawsuit has been filed against the measure by the North Carolina Association of Educators. The statewide teacher group has also led a “decline to sign” campaign asking teachers to not support the provision.

Lawmakers asked school districts to identify their top 25 percent of high-performing teachers and offer them a new four year contract with a $500 annual salary increase. In exchange, those teachers lose their tenure.The pay provision, included in the state budget last July, aims to reward teachers based on performance instead of having a tenure system that authors of the measure say "fosters mediocrity and discourages excellence."

"Career status," or teacher tenure, does not prevent a school board from firing a teacher, board member Leigh Boardley said.

"What career status provides for teachers, among other things, is their right to due process," she said. "Their right to a hearing if they are fired. I think that's a really reasonable thing for our staff to get for the hard work that they give us."

Durham's vote comes one day after the Wake County school board passed a three page resolution asking state lawmakers to repeal the provision. The state’s largest school district also plans to discuss the legislation with state legislative leaders. They currently do not plan to join any lawsuits.

North Carolina teachers currently reach "career status" after four years on the job. Afterwards, they can’t be dismissed without a specific due process.

Teachers are paid, in part, by seniority. Their pay scale is determined by state legislators. Some school districts augment pay for their teachers.

The budget provision eliminates tenure, or "career status," by 2018.

Carter, the Durham school board chairwoman, described the measure as "destructive for public education" and "disrespectful for teachers." She hopes more school districts will join the lawsuit.

"We felt very strongly that we wanted to stand by our convictions and do what was right," Carter said. "We are not thinking about politics right now. We are thinking about the children in this community and our employees who work hard for them every single day that's what we had in the forefront of our minds in this decision."