House gives preliminary approval to temporary fix for virtual teacher layoffs

Posted August 5, 2019 4:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 6, 2019 4:09 p.m. EDT

— The House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a temporary fix meant to save 220 North Carolina Virtual Public School teachers from approaching layoffs.

News of those temporary layoffs took teachers by surprise last week, when they learned that state law requires a break in service. The solution at the time? Lay the teachers, who are technically temporary employees, off for the fall semester.

An amendment tacked onto a school discipline bill Monday would exempt the virtual school from the state rule, at least for now. The new language tasks the state Department of Public Instruction with coming up with a more permanent solution by mid-October.

The General Assembly may have to vote on long-term changes then.

The quick fix was added to Senate Bill 295, which the House backed by a 62-52 vote on Tuesday after an hour of debate on student dress codes and the disciplinary provisions in the measure. A final vote is expected Wednesday before the bill returns to the Senate.

The layoff issue goes back to 2014, when the Virtual Public School was required to transition to a temporary employment service for payroll processing other human resource functions. As part of that, the school's teachers are required to take a 31-day break in service in order for the school and state HR office ​​​to comply with state law.

The temporary layoffs would require canceling or reducing enrollment in half of the school’s 150 courses this year, and an estimated 7,300 students would be unable to take advantage of the online school's courses this year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

The problem led to some finger-pointing, with state agencies disagreeing over who knew what when. Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, who ran the temporary fix amendment, said there's obviously been a communications problem.

"It's basically the right hand wasn't talking to the left hand, and then the toe got involved," he said.

The State Office of Human Resources outlined another possible fix in a letter its general counsel, Lars Nance, sent to DPI on Monday. Nance suggested that the system sign all 220 teachers to personal service contracts as a work-around. He acknowledged this would be a challenge to do before school starts, but he said a template contract was ready and that other state agencies would help.

"This proposal is the best approach for ensuring NCVPS instruction continues," Nance wrote.

There was no mention in the letter of the proposed legislative fix.