(pictured above: Ann Petitjean speaks at a pro-teachers rally last year.)
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education has decided to offer qualifying teachers raises in exchange for foregoing their tenure. That method is different from the one mandated in Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, which was pushed through the General Assembly by the Republican majority and funds the temporary raises.
The Act will bring an end to teacher tenure by 2018 and asks school districts to help facilitate the transition by picking the top 25 percent (based on at least three years of experience and performance evaluations) to receive $500 per year raises for the next four years in exchange for ending their tenure early and signing a four-year contract. After the fou years, school districts would have to cover the pay increases themselves or return teachers to their pre-contract pay level.
School boards across the state are struggling with how to fairly select teachers for the raises; some – including the Guilford County and Durham County boards of education – have refused to comply altogether and are readying legal challenges.
“It’s not a good way to enact the change,” said WS/FCS Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory.
The WS/FC Board of Education passed a resolution expressing to the General Assembly its opposition to having to pick the top 25 percent of teachers and urging legislatures to come up with a better way to pick educators.
While Emory said she applauded Guilford County’s move, she didn’t want to devote the school system’s money and resources to a lawsuit. Instead she came up with a proposal, passed unanimously by the school board last week, to offer all the 2,500 teachers in the county who qualify an opportunity to receive the raise. If more than 625 – or 25 percent – of them accept the money and contract, then a lottery system will be used to offer the contracts.
Emory said from what she’s been hearing from teachers, she expects most will not accept the offer. Tenure means job security for teachers. Those with it can’t be dismissed without due process.
“In exchange for not being able to pay teachers the salary of most professions in the private sectors, they had a little more job security,” said Emory, describing the history of teacher tenure.
Many Republican lawmakers believe that tenure is the reason why bad teachers remain on the payroll. Emory said she’s never seen a problem with holding teachers accountable, even those with tenure protections.
“I worked in the state as a teacher and then returned as an administrator and have never felt that the tenure laws in North Carolina made it difficult to get rid of someone who wasn’t doing the job,” she said.
School Board member Elisabeth Motsinger is concerned that the state won’t be able to maintain its commitment to teachers who do accept the offer. Funding for the raises has only been approved for the first year. If legislators refuse to fund the program in future sessions, local school systems will be left to foot the bill, said Motsinger, who called the law divisive and badly written.
She is urging teachers not to accept the raises.
“I personally think it’s terrible for us to pick and choose teachers considering they’re supposed to be working together in a collaborative way,” said Motsinger, who is also opposed to ending tenure.
School board vice-chair John Davenport Jr. does support the eventual end of tenure, saying he believes it will help administrators get who they need in the classroom. He doesn’t think the end of tenure will lead to the arbitrary firing of teachers.
Davenport doesn’t like the roll-out of the plan. He said forcing school districts to single out their “best” teachers is not ideal.
“I don’t feel like that’s the best way to end teacher tenure … there are some very valid questions raised about how you determine who’s the best and who’s not the best,” he said.
Forsyth County Association of Educators President Ann Petitjean said that the implementation of the policy by the board was the “least harmful way” to do it, since selecting the top 25 percent would have pitted teachers against one another. She will be turning down the offer and will urge all teachers to do the same. The FCAE opposes the end of tenure, as does its parent organization, the North Carolina Association of Educators, which has filed a lawsuit to halt the plan.
“There’s certain things we say, ‘OK, we’ll do this job for less money than our education would warrant necessarily in order to have certain guarantees,’” she said. “We want to be able to stand up when we see something is wrong in our classroom or in the school district; if we need to stand up for the kids or for other educators, we don’t want to get fired for that.”
Petitjean said she believes the state will lose more teachers if it ends tenure and fewer will consider entering the field.