NC Capitol

NC Capitol

Judge gives teachers victory in tenure battle

Posted April 23, 2014 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2014 10:42 p.m. EDT

— A Guilford County judge on Wednesday halted a requirement that North Carolina 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.

Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton issued an injunction that allows Guilford County Schools to evade the requirement, which lawmakers passed last year as part of the state budget.

Durham Public Schools last month joined a lawsuit filed by the Guilford County school district, and more than a quarter of the 115 school districts statewide have expressed opposition to contract requirement.

Under career status, commonly referred to as tenure, veteran teachers are given extra due process rights, including the right to a hearing if they are disciplined or fired.

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.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who initially crafted the tenure elimination proposal, said legislative leaders plan to seek an appeal of Doughton's injunction.

“It is hard to fathom why a single judge and a small group of government bureaucrats would try to deny top-performing teachers from receiving a well-deserved pay raise," Amy Auth said in an email. "We will appeal this legal roadblock and continue to fight for pay increases for our best teachers.”

It was unclear Wednesday whether the injunction applies only to the Guilford County and Durham County districts or would extend statewide.

“There is a strong argument that it would apply statewide,” said Ann McColl, general counsel for the North Carolina Association of Educators. "A law that is unconstitutional one place would be unconstitutional everywhere, but we don’t know for sure until we see what the judge puts down on paper."

Doughton's written order is expected next week.

The NCAE filed a separate lawsuit challenging the tenure provision and has backed campaigns for teachers not to sign the multi-year contracts.

“The courts have heard what we have been saying all along – that this law is unconstitutional," NCAE President Rodney Ellis said in a statement. "The voices of teachers and school administrators have been heard. It appears that our system of checks and balances is working, and we are hopeful that the final order will show that no local school board will have to implement an unconstitutional law.”