12/19/13 Educators react to NCAE suit

Educators react to NCAE suit
Elimination of tenure at heart of dispute
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 12/19/13  
Reprinted with permission.       

   The Alamance-Burlington School System faced a lot of mandates from the state and federal governments this year.

   Changes to teacher contracts eliminating tenure are shaping up to be one of the bigger headaches in the coming year. Add to those headaches the inevitable court battle that started Tuesday when the N.C. Association of Educators sued the state over the elimination of teacher tenure.

   According to the NCAE suit, the change in tenure rules violates teachers’ property rights by taking a benefit they were promised in their contracts and invested years, and takes their right to due process by taking their rights to a hearing.

   Alamance County Republican state Sen. Rick Gunn said that was not enough flexibility for school districts, which, he said, is borne out by the numbers.

   “Only 17 out of 95,000 teachers in the ’11-’12 school year were fi red for cause,” Gunn said. “We only want top performing teachers in the classroom.”

   The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013 eliminates tenure in public schools for teachers and others like librarians and school psychologists by 2018.

   Tenure, since 1971, has meant after four years of year-to-year contracts, and if granted tenure, a school system would have to show a teacher had performed poorly, been insubordinate, neglected his or her duties, or his or her district had to reduce staff. It also gave a teacher the right to a hearing if fired.

   “I think there are plenty of control mechanisms in place to keep teachers accountable,” Alamance-Burlington Board of Education member Jackie Cole said Wednesday. “We have a lot of hard-working teachers that deserve some assurance that they will have a job.”

   The transition out of teacher tenure involves offering 25 percent of faculty with three years in the same district and “proficient ratings” a four-year contract with $5,000 in raises.

   After 2018, tenure will be eliminated, and teachers will be able to get one-, two- or four-year contracts depending on evaluations.

   “It says we do not value experienced teachers in the schools; we want a revolving door,” NCAE President Rodney Ellis said in November at a town meeting at Williams High School.

   THERE ARE 1,126 tenured staff and 1,165 teachers, librarians, councilors, psychologists, therapists and social workers in the Alamance-Burlington

   School System who are eligible for the four-year contracts, said Mark Doane, executive director of human resources at ABSS.

   That means 290 teachers would get offers of $5,000, which comes to about $1.45 million, $145,000 of which the state has already funded.

   Gunn said the vast majority of teachers in North Carolina do a good job and deserve better pay, but there has to be accountability for their performance to have the best results in schools.

   “One of the best ways to do that is to base compensation on performance and not on tenure,” Gunn said. “To have accountability, we have to have the ability to remove teachers.”

   Under the new law, the superintendent will choose which teachers to offer the four-year contracts and raises. The board of education must review those choices and can pick different qualifying teachers.

   Board Vice Chair Patsy Simpson has said she was uncomfortable with the board getting involved in day-to-day and personnel decisions.

   The Legislature has appropriated $10 million for only the fi rst, and cheapest, year of raises, leaving the other $90 million to future budget writers.

   Anne McColl, general counsel for the NCAE, says future legislatures are not bound by the decisions of this legislature, so there is no guarantee the money will be there.

   ACCORDING TO THE model contract the state board of education released earlier this month, school systems have to pay those raises whether the legislature appropriates the money or not.

   For ABSS, that would represent about a $1.3 million obligation not yet funded.

   McColl laid out a scenario in which districts end up cutting employees to pay those raises since salaries make up most of a school district’s budget.

   Gunn dismissed that as an apocalyptic scenario.

   “That’s absolutely absurd on their part,” Gunn said, “absurd.”

   The Legislature will be held accountable for how they compensate state employees, and that does not change with this law, he said.

   “I think teachers can rest assured that their merit pay will be paid,” Gunn said.