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The North Carolina Teacher Project is a year-long look at the teaching profession, told through in-depth feature stories, comprehensive policy discussions on The State of Things, intimate conversations between students and teachers, and multimedia presentations. More background on this series is available here. Check out our The Teachers' Room Blog on Tumblr.These reports are part of American Graduate - Let’s Make it Happen! - a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Wake School Board Joins Opposition To 25 Percent Mandate

Broughton High School teacher Lee Quinn speaks out against the 25 percent mandate.
Dave DeWitt

On Thursday nights, some Broughton High School teachers get together after school. And while other days might be spent collaborating with colleagues or coaching a team or tutoring students, this meeting is different. They are coming together to write letters to Legislators – explaining that they are unhappy, unappreciated, and unified.

For many, the State Legislature ending tenure and replacing it with a plan that will give bonuses and four-year contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers - if they relinquish their tenure rights now – was the last straw.

“Because it really isn’t about this bonus, it’s about a much deeper effort on the part of the Legislature,” says Lee Quinn, a history teacher at Broughton for 13 years. “We just see this as a part of that effort to undermine public education and to demonize teachers and to enact hostility toward teachers.”

More than a dozen local school boards across the state have passed resolutions opposing the 25 percent mandate, including New Hanover, Carteret, Durham, and Guilford.

Wake County, the state’s largest school district, is the latest. The Board unanimously passed a resolution last night calling the mandate “unfair.”

“We as a Board are required to select 25 percent of our teachers to receive the bonus,” said Christine Kushner, the Wake School Board Chair. “We feel we have far many teachers who are deserving of a raise in the coming year.”

The resolution cited concerns that there are no clear criteria for making those selections, and that the 25 percent mandate isn’t funded past the first year.

Republican Legislators who proposed and passed the plan have a different view.

“Everybody will not get the same raises, probably, from here on out,” said State Senator Jerry Tillman, speaking at the recent Emerging Issues Forum. Tillman is the co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Education.

He says the 25 percent mandate is part of a larger, as-yet-unannounced, plan to increase pay for the best teachers.

“There will be a lot in there for excellence and achievement and moving your students ahead,” he said. “Are your students making adequate progress under your tutelage? If they are, we need to pay you a lot of money.”

Merit pay is nothing new in education. In fact, some Wake County Schools currently use performance pay models. But teachers and now many school board members believe a competitive model, like the 25 percent mandate, discourages collaboration.

“Under this sort of plan what it incentivizes me to do is to keep (good ideas) to myself, and not share,” said Quinn. “If I share it I might be worried, in this scenario, that my neighbor students may do better and cut me out of a bonus.”

Across the state, teacher morale is low. Some are demoralized; others are angry. Soon, they will all have a choice to make: Do they give up their tenure due process rights now - rights that will be gone in a few years anyway - and “opt-in”, hoping they are chosen as one of the top 25 percent?

“Absolutely among ourselves, we’ve discussed that the best course of action for us to send a strong message to this Legislature is to opt-in to the system so that we might have the opportunity to reject the contracts, as sort of a public, active statement,” said Quinn.

More school boards are expected to join Wake in passing resolutions against the 25 percent mandate. Durham has already done so, and will consider today whether to join a lawsuit expected to be filed by the Guilford County School Board.

All of North Carolina’s local school boards have until June 30th to issue new contracts to teachers.

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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