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Teachers Fight Over Loss Of Tenure, New Contracts

teacher hearing
Dave DeWitt

There are 95,000 public school teachers in North Carolina, give or take. So how many, given their only chance to comment publicly on the end of tenure, would make their way to downtown Raleigh to voice their displeasure? Hundreds? Thousands, maybe?

Try four.

But maybe the low attendance wasn’t so much a reflection on teachers’ anger – it might just speak more to their sense of duty. The public hearing, after all, was scheduled on a Wednesday afternoon at 1 PM. Hardly convenient for a teacher.

Deb Green was able to make it, only because she teaches part-time in Guilford County. She says the plan to replace tenure with a system that awards the top 25 percent of teachers with 4-year contracts and relegates the rest to 1- or 2-year contracts is not conducive to cooperation:

When teachers feel they are competing with one another they are not going to be willing to share concerns. Like, ‘I’m having trouble with Johnny, I know you’re successful with him, what do you do that works? How do you communicate with him.’ Teachers aren’t going to feel safe to do that because they want that scarce resource of that job security and that raise.

One motivation for ending tenure was that it stood in the way of getting rid of bad teachers. Senate Leader Phil Berger, the architect of the plan, cites Department of Public Instruction data that shows only 17 teachers were dismissed in 2012.

In a press conference last March, Berger said he heard from parents and others that the Legislature needed to do something about bad teachers:

Now, is that a large number of teachers? I don’t think so. I think it’s a very small number of the teachers that we have. But if it’s one teacher and it’s the teacher that is teaching your child, it’s a huge problem.

Berger and his Republican colleagues are hoping to entice teachers to voluntarily give up tenure this year by rewarding those who do - and fall in the top 25-percent - with a 500 dollar raise. When tenure is completely gone, in 2018, it’s conceivable that some teachers won’t be offered a contract at all.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has filed a lawsuit.  

I believe (more experienced teachers) have a target on their back. I believe they are coming after them to get rid of them to keep the cost of education down, and you can keep the cost of education down by hiring a teacher and letting him teach for two or three years and getting rid of him. -Rodney Ellis, President of the NCAE

“I believe (more experienced teachers) have a target on their back,” said Rodney Ellis, President of the NCAE. “I believe they are coming after them to get rid of them to keep the cost of education down, and you can keep the cost of education down by hiring a teacher and letting him teach for two or three years and getting rid of him.”

Across the state, many teachers have vowed not to accept the four-year contracts, if they are offered. At some schools, the entire faculty has banded together and signed petitions agreeing to turn down the longer contracts and raises.

Some elected officials are hearing what teachers are saying. Republican legislators are talking openly about giving teachers a raise during the upcoming short session, and Governor Pat McCrory said earlier this week that he will soon roll out several proposals to pay better teachers more:

One feedback I get from teachers is, ‘will you respect us? Will you show us some respect?’ They just feel like they’re walked over. No one likes to work for a company where they are just taken for granted and a lot of teachers are feeling like they are taken for granted at this point in time.

As teachers hunker down for a fight over the contracts, it falls to the Principals, Superintendents and Local School Boards to come up with a process over the next few months to identify the top 25 percent, and implement a new system most did not want.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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