RALEIGH, N.C. — When former Leesville Road High School teacher Glenda Gooch walks through the halls of her old teaching grounds, the memories come flooding back.
She retired from teaching in 2011 after a series of budget cuts led to one of the largest waves of retirement in Wake County school history.
“With all of the budget cuts and layoffs and pink slips, teachers were unsure of what was going to happen,” Gooch said. “If they were eligible for retirement, they said, ‘I’m going to take my money and go.’”
Now, three years later, a new state law will repeal career status protections – sometimes referred to as “tenure” – for teachers by 2018. Under the change, only the top 25 percent of educators will be eligible for four-year contracts and $500 increases.
Gooch and other educators worry the changes will lead to low morale and mass retirement.
“There’s going to be another massive exodus,” Gooch said.
Lawmakers haven’t made clear how they would rate top teachers.
"Many of our school systems already evaluate teachers and provide merit pay,” Senate leader Phil Berger, who helped craft the bill, said in a statement. “We hope Wake County Public Schools will embrace the opportunity to reward top performing teachers.”
But educators say rewarding only the top-performing teachers is a divisive policy.
“It does not take into consideration all the collaboration that our teachers use when they’re trying to provide a quality education for our students, so teachers are quite frustrated with this new bill,” said Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Monica Wilkerson, the English department chair at Leesville Road High School, knows that frustration.
"The perception that tenure has given us this ability to be slack and that we aren't being held responsible is, frankly, not true,” she said. “We work long hours. We take work home. We even work during the summer when we aren't getting paid because we want the best for our students.”
A number of lawmakers have admitted the system needs revamping. A new legislative task force is considering alternative systems of paying state teachers. The task force will make recommendations to the General Assembly.