Last night, Buncombe County joined a growing list of school districts that have passed resolutions rejecting the state’s new teacher contract system, which awards 4-year contracts to the top 25% of teachers (how those teachers are chosen is unclear) in exchange for relinquishing their tenure rights early.

From the Citizen-Times:

“The Board believes that retroactively removing career status from those teachers who have already obtained it may unconstitutionally interfere with employment contracts legally issued by the Board,” the resolution states.

The resolution also claims that the language in the 25 percent mandate is “vague and subject to multiple, inconsistent interpretations.

“The 25 percent mandate fails as a ‘merit-based’ pay initiative in that teachers had no prior notice of the criteria necessary to earn additional compensation.”

“I’m glad we’re taking this bold first step,” board member Lisa Baldwin said. “I want to challenge the board to go further.”

Buncombe County joins 15 other school districts in rejecting the merits of the 25% teacher contracts. Guilford and Durham counties have gone a step further, filing a lawsuit challenging the new teacher contract system and the dissolution of teacher tenure, also known as career status.

A full list of the local school districts that have passed resolutions rejecting the teacher contracts, with links to their resolutions, can be found on NCAE’s website here.

The state’s Office of Charter Schools issued a warning letter to Douglass Academy in Wilmington, whose enrollment numbers fall far short of the state’s minimum requirement of 65 — and if numbers don’t go up, the school’s charter could be revoked.

Founder of Douglass Academy, charter school operator Baker Mitchell, manages a total of three three charter schools in North Carolina through his ‘Roger Bacon Academy’ —  and he is hoping to open a fourth charter school this fall.

From the Star News in Wilmington:

Douglass Academy opened in August 2013 and has kindergarten and first- and second-grade students. Originally, the school was geared toward students living in low-income and public housing units, such as Jervay, Hillcrest, Houston Moore and Greenfield Village. Original plans were to build a new school along South 13th and Greenfield streets or to rent the old Lakeside High School building. But neither of those options worked, and the school decided to rent and renovate the Peabody Center at North Sixth and Red Cross streets.

Mitchell said the school’s struggles to find a building confused some parents who had originally enrolled their children in the school.

“We got tied up with a facility issue and really didn’t have a designated location until about four weeks before school started,” Mitchell said. “We wound up not making enrollment.”

That caused the state to place the school on governance cautionary status, which is the first step in a three-level warning system. The school has 30 days to correct its problems, according to state Board of Education policy. If it makes the corrections, the status is removed. If it fails to correct the issue, the school moves up to governance probationary status, the second warning.

Mitchell said all of Douglass Academy’s 33 students had re-enrolled for next school year and 63 new students had also enrolled.

“We should start off next year with a minimum of 96 students,” he said.

Douglass Academy officials will be required to go before the Office of Charter Schools and the N.C. Charter School Advisory Council on Monday to explain the low enrollment numbers.

Baker Mitchell also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Council, the body tasked with reviewing charter school applications and making recommendations to the State Board of Education for which applicants should be green lighted to open charter schools.

Last week, local lawmakers and community leaders got a tour of Douglass Academy that was sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. AFP aimed to showcase alternative education possibilities now that the cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in the state has been lifted. Americans for Prosperity head John Dudley was unaware the school was under a warning.

Mitchell, who has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing the two other charter schools in southeastern North Carolina, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General. Details of the case have not been made public.

Edward Pruden, Superintendent for Brunswick County Schools, theorizes that the investigation has to do with improper enrollment practices. Boosting enrollment numbers would direct more state funding to Mitchell’s charter schools.

“According to information Brunswick County Schools received, the basis of the alleged investigation was that Charter Day School … used improper means to encourage homeschooled and private school students to enroll during the first few days of school to increase the average daily membership,” Pruden wrote in a letter he sent to the State Board of Education.

The Durham News reports that the Durham school board voted yesterday to join Guilford County in a lawsuit challenging the new teacher contract system and the dissolution of teacher tenure, also known as career status:

Durham school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter and vice chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown both said the the law, the Excellent Public Schools Act, is disrespectful and could hurt public education.

“I’d like for our public to know that in November, when we found that this was considered to be law, we thought it to be ludicrous that a teacher would be asked to give up career status for $500 a year – which equates to $50 a month, which equates to $2.50 a day,” Forte-Brown said. “So I am so proud to be a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, that we are standing for what our constitution says is right.”

State Sen. Mike Woodard attended Wednesday’s meeting.

“I am very proud of the board today,” he said. “I think we need to send a clear message to Gov. McCrory and the legislative branch.”

The law, enacted last summer, scraps teacher tenure for all by 2018 — a move promoted by lawmakers as a way to more easily get rid of bad teachers.

This fall, the top 25% of teachers who are tenured can accept 4-year contracts worth $500/year if they are willing to give up their tenure early. This piece of the law, say proponents, rewards good teachers with a pay bump.

Opponents of the law say the teacher contract system could discourage collaboration among teachers as they fight for meager wage increases, and the elimination of tenure subjects teachers to the whims of the local school board’s politics and makes the profession even less attractive to educators.

Guilford County‘s school board was the first in the state to file a lawsuit last month challenging the constitutionality of getting rid of teacher tenure, which is nothing more than a guarantee of a teacher’s due process rights in the event of demotion or dismissal. A number of local school districts have passed resolutions rejecting the tenure law and asking for relief from awarding teacher contracts (including Wake County), but only Guilford and Durham school districts have gone as far as to challenge the law in court.

On behalf of six public school teachers, the North Carolina Association of Educators filed a complaint last December alleging that the repeal of career status violates the state and federal constitution by denying teachers due process rights.

houseLocal law enforcement officers in Watauga County are investigating threatening letters that were sent to some Watauga high school teachers who have supported keeping Isabel Allende’s book, ‘The House of the Spirits,’ in the 10th grade honors English curriculum.

Last fall, parents complained to the school board that Allende’s book contains graphic scenes that are inappropriate for tenth graders, including rape and executions. The novel spans four generations of the fictional Trueba family’s encounters with post-colonial social and political upheavals in Chile.

“It is one thing to disagree with a policy or a procedure or a book used in the schools.  It is a completely different and unacceptable thing to threaten someone because they hold a different opinion,” interim superintendent David Fonseca said in a statement.

“This threat is a despicable attempt to intimidate a very professional and accomplished group of educators who deserve our respect.  It is also a criminal act, and we are cooperating fully with local law enforcement in their efforts to find out who is responsible for the letters.  We will support the prosecution of that person or persons to the fullest extent of the law,” Fonseca said.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Watauga County Board of Education will consider a third and final appeal by the parents challenging the book. The ACLU plans to join a community rally this afternoon in Boone, just hours before the school board will vote on whether or not to keep ‘The House of the Spirits’ in the curriculum.

 

Yesterday state NAACP President Rev. William Barber compared North Carolina’s school voucher program, which would funnel taxpayer dollars out of the state’s public schools and into private ones, with the state’s past efforts to avoid court-mandated desegregation of its public schools.

From WRAL:

State NAACP President Rev. William Barber called the voucher plan “old wine wrapped in a new wineskin,” saying it smacked of 1970s-style efforts in North Carolina to evade court orders calling for the desegregation of public schools in the state.

“You cannot look at this issue in a vacuum, and you cannot dismiss the racialized components of what (Gov. Pat) McCrory and (House Speaker Thom) Tillis and (Senate President Pro Tem Phil) Berger and extremists are doing,” Barber said during a news conference. “To take public money to engage in this kind of voucher scheme is wrong.”

Last week, a superior court judge temporarily halted the school voucher program while the merits of two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the program are decided. To read more about the judge’s decision, click here and here.