CARY — Wake County teachers will have to decide whether proposed pay raises are worth giving up their tenure rights.
Wake school administrators laid out to the school board Tuesday how they’re trying to comply with a new state law that requires school districts to offer four-year contracts with $500-a-year pay raises to 25 percent of their teachers.
School board members railed against the new contracts, saying the process will hurt school morale and damage efforts to recruit teachers.
“This is a bad way for rewarding teachers,” said school board member Jim Martin. “This is a bad way for just about everything.”
While Wake is still finalizing details, contracts offers will go out to teachers by early June.
The N.C. Association of Educators is trying to overturn the legislation eliminating tenure in court. While its lawsuit filed in December is pending, the teachers group is urging educators to not accept the new contracts.
“Wake County teachers deserve better,” Larry Nilles, president of the Wake County chapter of NCAE, said at the board meeting. “Wake students deserve better.”
Since 1971, 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.
Senate Leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican who led the effort to phase out tenure, has said tenure is an impediment to removing bad teachers from the classroom. He cited data from the state that showed only 17 teachers were dismissed in North Carolina in 2011-12.
Under the new law, tenure will be eliminated for all teachers on July 1, 2018. Tenure also won’t be awarded to teachers who haven’t received it yet.
But legislators hope some teachers will go ahead and give up tenure before 2018. They hope the possibility of raises will jumpstart the process.
School districts are working out how they’ll meet state requirements. The contracts are open to teachers who’ve taught in their current school district for more than three years and who are rated at least proficient on the state’s teacher evaluation system.
‘The most fair’
As the largest school system in the state, Wake has to make offers to 25 percent of the 7,454 teachers who may be eligible for the four-year contracts. Wake formed a working group consisting of teachers, principals and central-office administrators that presented a draft proposal Tuesday with the final version to come back later this month or February.
“This is the most fair and equitable process we can identify for a school system this large,” said Doug Thilman, assistant superintendent for human resources.
Classroom teachers make up the largest group of eligible employees, accounting for 6,580 people. Every school will offer contracts to 25 percent of its eligible teachers. The offers will be based on the average scores on the state evaluation system for the prior two years.
School board member Zora Felton, who retired as a teacher last year, said those teacher evaluations are subjective. They’re based on classroom observations by the principal and assistant principal.
Non-classroom teachers such as counselors, social workers and media specialists will be put into a districtwide pool for consideration. They’ll be evaluated under a different system.
Teachers will be able to go online to say whether or not they want to be considered for the contracts.
Board members, teachers and administrators said the new contracts will impact morale at schools.
“Principals are very concerned about the impact it has on the local school building,” Thilman said.
Board members questioned whether teachers would get the raises that are supposed to come with the new contracts.
Teachers are supposed to get raises of $500 for each of the next four years, so that by 2018 they’re getting $2,000 more a year than they now receive. But state funding is only guaranteed for the first year.
“It’s a leap of faith that the General Assembly will continue to fund this,” school board member Kevin Hill said.
Board member Tom Benton charged that the new law will cause “irreparable harm” to the school system. He said it would hurt recruitment efforts, noting how teachers would lose the extra pay if they relocate to Wake.
“We’re nervous about our ability to compete,” added Superintendent Jim Merrill.
It’s uncertain how many teachers will take the new contracts.
Cathy King, a teacher at West Lake Middle School near Apex, told board members that they should expect large numbers of teachers to say no to the contract.
Felton, the board member, said many of her former colleagues tell her they won’t accept the new contracts.
“To me, the money wouldn’t be much of an incentive,” she said.