N.C. Senate considers teacher tenure cut

North Carolina public school teachers may lose significant job security in coming school years.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Guilford, proposed the Excellent Public Schools Act in April with the promise to improve literacy, graduation rates and teacher effectiveness. An updated version of the bill cleared the Senate Education Committee May 29.

If passed, the measure will extend the school year by five days, heavily increase emphasis on reading before fourth grade and create a North Carolina Teaching Corps similar to Teach for America. The most contentious provision, however, would alter teacher tenure—a move that has garnered opposition from educators.

“The current system rewards mediocrity and punishes excellence by granting job security to all who teach a few years,” Berger said.

The Excellent Public Schools Act would cost about $440 million over the next five years, according to the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a non-profit policy think tank which is a partnership of North Carolina business, education and government leaders.

The latest version of the bill would place all teachers on one-year contracts—renewable based on performance and evaluations—for the 2012-2013 school year, said Amy Auth, deputy chief of staff for communications and operations for Berger. Teachers would work on one-year contracts until they have worked for three or more years, when they will become eligible for one to four-year contracts with the local school board.

The bill also charges each local education board with developing a system of merit pay for teachers, which would reward high-performing teachers with annual bonuses and salary raises. The original bill would have eliminated tenure for all NC public school teachers—even those with tenured contracts—and moved them to annual contracts with yearly renewal based on teacher performance.

The sponsors changed the bill’s approach to tenure based on feedback from the education community, Auth noted.

Some educators think the stakes of eliminating tenure are too high. For instance, legal precedent would complicate the firing of teachers, even if tenure is eliminated, said Paul Bonner, principal of Myers Park Traditional Elementary School, a magnet school in Charlotte. Tenure’s elimination would harm the safety and appeal of teaching careers, he added.

“Taking away tenure to allow only one-year contracts would end one of the few benefits teachers have—job security,” Bonner said.

Bonner also said the elimination of tenure would make it more difficult for him to ensure that his teachers are performing at a high level.

“Universal one-year contracts would more than triple the number of observations and evaluations principals conduct each year,” he noted. “This would reduce meaningful time rooting out weak teachers, and it would take away the time needed for the myriad of responsibilities required of a principal.”

In an April news release, The North Carolina School Boards Association articulated support for declining tenure to new teachers while maintaining it for those who had achieved tenure or were on track to do so. If tenure is revoked retroactively from teachers, expensive lawsuits may follow. The release cited past lawsuits concerning similar laws and noted that there was little consistency in the legal verdict of these trials.

“While a strong legal argument could be made that ending tenure for those who have already earned it is permissible, how the state courts might rule is far from clear-cut and will likely take years of litigation to play itself out,” the release said.

The Senate will vote on the bill today, Auth said. If passed, the bill will proceed to the state House of Representatives for approval.


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