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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.

 

School-vouchersIn case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out Professor Jane Wettach’s excellent essay in Saturday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which she exposes the enormous practical and constitutional problems with the school voucher scheme passed into law by conservative politicians last summer. The essay comes, of course,  in the aftermath of Friday’s very welcome court ruling that enjoined the implementation of the new law. Among other things, Wettach cites several damning statistics from a new report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University Law School including:

  • A total of 696 private schools are registered with the State Division of Non-Public Education. Of those, 70 percent are religious and 30 percent are independent.
  • A quarter of the private schools have enrollments of fewer than 20 students; nearly another quarter have enrollments of fewer than 50 students. Read More

*See below for additional documents related to this story.

Greensboro’s News & Record reports that members of the Guilford County School Board voted unanimously last night to reject the state’s new law that would abolish teacher tenure and require school districts to offer teachers temporary contracts, calling into question its constitutionality and asking for relief from the law.

Guilford County also plans to file a complaint challenging the law in Guilford County Superior Court, according to Nora Carr, the district’s chief of staff.

Teachers packed the board room last night, wearing “red for ed” and holding signs to protest the law.

Last summer, lawmakers did away with teacher tenure, formally known as “career status,” which is essentially due process rights for teachers who are dismissed or demoted. North Carolina has awarded teachers tenure for roughly 50 years.

In its place, the state asks local school districts to award the top 25% of its teachers 4-year temporary contracts that are worth $500 pay bumps each year of the contract — as long as those teachers relinquish their tenure. By 2018, tenure will be abolished for all.

Teachers across the state have expressed unhappiness with the new law. The North Carolina Association of Educators is coordinating a campaign called “Decline to Sign,” encouraging teachers who have tenure to reject the temporary contracts and hold on to their tenure through 2018.

In a letter sent to GCS Superintendent Maurice Green, Senate leader Phil Berger said he was “deeply troubled” by Guilford’s move to defy the new law that he pushed toward passage last summer.

Berger also said that board members are “grasping at straws for a legal argument to support their preference for the status quo on teacher pay.”

“Attempts to manufacture legal arguments to derail policy directives may be even more underhanded than openly refusing to follow the law,” said Berger, according to the News & Record.

*UPDATE: Click here to read Guilford County School Board’s resolution to reject the new teacher contract law. And click here to read Senator Phil Berger’s letter to GCS Superintendent Maurice Green.

Gerry Cohen, Special Counsel to the NC General Assembly, explains in this letter to Senator Berger the ramifications of a school board’s decision to reject the teacher contract system. Essentially, members of that school board can be removed from office as punishment for failing to comply with the law.

Check out this video of teachers protesting the law at the Guilford County school board meeting.

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Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest announced this morning a teacher pay plan that boosts salaries for less experienced teachers in North Carolina, but leaves behind the vast majority – approximately 65,000 teachers out of the state’s 95,000+ — who have worked here longer and whose wages have been effectively frozen for the past five years.

Teachers who started at the bottom of the pay scale five years ago have been stuck at $30,800 since that time, not counting local supplements. McCrory’s plan would guarantee that beginning teachers make at least $33,000 annually in 2014-15, and for 2015-16, base pay for teachers would increase again to $35,000.

GOP leaders estimate that approximately 32,000 teachers would benefit from the proposal. There are roughly 95,000 teachers in North Carolina, which means that three quarters of the teaching workforce would see their salaries frozen for the sixth year in a row. (Teachers did get a 1.2% pay raise in 2010, but that was offset by an increase in health care premiums).

McCrory said funds already available will be used to pay for the announced salary increase for beginning teachers. Approximately $250 million went unspent in the general budget during last year’s budget negotiations, begging the question: why didn’t the raise come last year, when funds were available then?

Also unclear: is McCrory’s plan a true pay raise, meaning the pay bump for new teachers will be recurring? Or is it a one-time bonus, leaving salaries to revert back to their previous levels after 2016?

On another note, supplemental pay will be awarded for those teachers who completed master’s degree programs by July 1, 2013. Previously, only those who had finished their degrees by April 1, 2013 would have received the pay bump, causing consternation for many who wouldn’t have been able to complete their degrees mid-semester in order to make the cutoff.

But going forward, it appears lawmakers will stick with the plan to deny graduate degree holders salary increases for advancing their education.

McCrory said that future announcements will be made with regard to teacher pay in the coming months. There was no mention of restoring other budget reductions to public education, which include drastic cuts to teacher assistants and classroom supplies, and lifting the cap on classroom sizes, among others.