CARY — In front of a crowd of more than 100 cheering teachers, the Wake County school board unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the state’s plan to offer pay raises to top teachers in return for their giving up tenure rights.
School board members charged that the new contracts – part of a law passed by the legislature to eliminate tenure in four years – would hurt teachers’ morale, inhibit their spirit of collaboration and would not fairly pay enough teachers for their hard work. But the school board stopped short of either filing suit against the law or preparing an affidavit in support of the N.C. Association of Educators’ lawsuit seeking to overturn the law.
Instead, board members voted to meet with legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory to urge the law’s repeal.
“This is more than just words,” school board member Jim Martin said before the vote. “We will take this document to our Wake County delegation, to the governor, because this needs to be more than just words. We need action. We need to repeal that law.”
School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said the board wanted first to see how the meetings went with state leaders before considering other options. She said the board hasn’t taken pursuing legal action off the table.
By the start of the meeting, teachers wearing red filled the board room. Some speakers accused legislators of trying to corporatize education with concepts such as merit pay.
“We don’t need 25 percent contracts,” said Heather Shipley, a teacher at Pleasant Union Elementary School in North Raleigh. “We need support and collaboration, not shallow rewards and competition.”
The Durham school board will meet Wednesday to decide whether to join a lawsuit that the Guilford County school board plans to file against the new contracts and the elimination of tenure.
Wake joins a growing number of school boards that have opposed the changes that the state made this year to the way teachers are employed. Wake joins 12 school districts, including Durham, that had already passed resolutions opposing the contracts. Another 12 districts are working on resolutions, according to the N.C. Association of Educators.
Since 1971, North Carolina teachers who made it beyond a four-year probationary period earned “career status,” more commonly referred to as tenure. Though the designation did not equate to a lifetime job guarantee, it did come with certain job protections, including the right to a hearing in the event of dismissal.
The Republican-led state legislature passed a budget last year that eliminates tenure in 2018. Meanwhile, school districts will offer the top 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts with escalating $500-a-year raises for each of the next four years to relinquish their status.
Legislative leaders argued that tenure protected bad teachers, citing the low numbers of teachers fired annually statewide. But education leaders counter that the dismissals don’t count teachers who resign after being counseled to do so.
Legislative leaders also say that the new contracts will reward good teachers with more pay.
Before the meeting, Kushner sent a mass email to the district’s teachers informing them of the pending vote. She invited teachers to watch the board meeting online and to comment via Twitter.
The school district’s Twitter account gave a running account of the comments being made by board members and speakers opposing the new contracts.
Educators speak out
Speaker Marcia Timmel presented a petition she said showed that 98 percent of her fellow teachers at North Garner Middle School would refuse to sign the contracts.
“We stand united in support of the work you’re doing to protect public education,” she told the board.
Sandy Pirolli, the principal of Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh, said it would be “courageous” to pass the resolution. She said the loss of many teachers at her school has resulted in a very young staff, containing 53 percent beginning teachers.
“In the past year, I’m very weary and I’m very saddened and, yes, we are in crisis in the state of North Carolina,” Pirolli said. “I’m losing teachers right and left, and I’m literally watching the program that we built fall apart.”
The crowd was so large and there were so many speakers that the presentation of Superintendent Jim Merrill’s budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year was postponed to March 18.
State Senate leader Phil Berger has called the new contracts a continuation of efforts that already are in place in districts to reward teachers for their performance. He has cited Wake’s use of performance pay for teachers at five schools under the federally funded Renaissance Schools program.
In a news conference before the board meeting, Kushner said no decision has been made as to whether to continue offering the performance pay when the federal funding runs out this school year. She said that performance pay works for simple tasks but not for complex tasks such as teaching.
“For complex long-term tasks like teaching, performance pay has not proven to be effective,” Kushner said. “In fact, it’s proven to be counterproductive.”
Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation, disagreed. He noted that the Obama administration has supported merit pay programs for teachers.
“Most professions incorporate financial incentives into their compensation plans,” Stoops said in an interview. “As one of our most important professions, teaching should be no different.”