Local News

Wake school board asks lawmakers to repeal teacher contract law

Posted March 4, 2014 3:38 p.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2014 10:45 p.m. EST

— Leaders of the state's largest school system unanimously voted Tuesday evening on a three-page resolution asking North Carolina lawmakers to repeal legislation that eliminates tenure for public school teachers in return for offering a limited number of teacher pay raises.

The vote was met with a standing ovation from those who packed into the school board meeting room.

The pay provision, included in the state budget last July, is aimed at rewarding teachers based on their performance instead of having a tenure system that authors of the law say "fosters mediocrity and discourages excellence."

Wake County Board of Education Chairwoman Christine Kushner told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the board has concerns that the law will drive away good educators, hurt recruitment in the state and discourage teachers from working together to share best practices – something the board believes increases teacher effectiveness and heightens student learning.

"This legislation creates division among teachers, when we know the better way to improve our schools is through collaboration," Kushner said. "We applaud the General Assembly for its efforts to improve teacher pay, but we ask them to do more. Talented teachers are walking away from Wake County, and away from North Carolina. We are asking the General Assembly to reconsider this legislation, and in its place, develop a compensation plan that is tied to career growth and pulls North Carolina teacher salaries up to the national average."

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who initially crafted the tenure elimination proposal, said in a statement Tuesday that the measure uses a practice of merit pay and evaluating teachers that's already being used in schools across the state, including in Wake County.

"So, we hope Wake County public schools will accept these additional state dollars and embrace the opportunity to recognize and reward greater numbers of top-performing teachers who make a lasting impact on the lives of their students," Berger said.

Lee Quinn, a 13-year history teacher at Broughton High School in Raleigh, said he believes the legislation is "harmful" and is part of a greater effort by the General Assembly to "undermine public education."

"It is insulting for our legislators to intimate that the fundamental problem facing schools today is that teachers simply aren't teaching hard enough and that a modest financial carrot will somehow motivate us to teach harder," Quinn said.

He's met no one, he said, who backs the law.

"I've really been searching long and hard for anyone who supports it," Quinn said. "I really can't find anyone outside of a few press releases from some of our senators and representatives. No one I've spoken to seems to think this is a good idea, regardless of their political affiliation or ideology."

The North Carolina Association of Educators and several teachers have already filed a lawsuit to repeal the provision. Kushner said the school board, at this point, is not planning to follow suit.

The school board's vice chairman, Tom Benton, told WRAL News that the board plans to request a meeting with Gov. Pat McCrory and top legislative leaders on the matter.

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

Teachers are paid in part based on seniority – their years on the job. That pay scale is determined by the state legislature. Some local school systems augment the state allotment for teachers in their districts.

The new law eliminates tenure, or career status, by 2018.

Lawmakers asked districts this year to identify their top 25 percent of high-performing teachers and offer each a new four-year contract with a $500 annual salary increase. In exchange, those teachers lose the chance at tenure.

After the law is fully in effect, teachers with four or more years of experience would be considered "non-probationary," a protected status. To maintain that status, teachers must submit to yearly observation evaluations. If a teacher receives two years in a row of negative evaluations, he or she would become probationary and could be fired at will.

Approximately 62 percent of the Wake County Public School System's teachers are eligible for a new four-year contract.

"We have yet to find a single system in the state that has found a positive way to deal with this law," Benton said. "Not only have they not found a positive way, but they all consistently talk about the negative impact this particular law will have on the culture our schools and be a further insult to the teachers that are working as hard as they can work."

Benton said he believes teacher morale is at the lowest he's seen it in his 40 years of education and that the debate over tenure has caused educators and lawmakers alike to lose sight of the fact that teacher salaries across the state are lower than the national average.

An increasing number of teachers are actively looking for ways to leave the classroom for careers in other industries, he said.

"We've got more people leaving. We've got industry picking up on their hiring, and we have less people going into the field, so I am deeply concerned with the lack of morale and the lack of competitive wages about just who we will have available to put into our classrooms in the near future," said Benton.