Durham school board joins opposition to tenure loss

jalexander@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2014 

— The Durham school board voted unanimously Thursday night to support Guilford County’s fight to save teacher’s tenure.

Board member Natalie Beyer made the motion “to cooperate with the attorney for N.C. Association of Educators to provide support in the form of an affidavit in the litigation that seeks to maintain the tenure rights of teachers.”

The motion also instructed the school board attorney to communicate with attorneys for the Guilford County Board of Education if it would be practical or helpful for the Durham Board of Education to join any lawsuit they might file regarding its attempts to fight a new law that requires officials to offer contracts to 25 percent of teachers in exchange for them giving up their tenure.

The Excellent Public Schools Act, which was passed in 2008, offers certain teachers four-year contracts in exchange for their tenure, which all teachers would lose by 2018. The law was intended to promote competition and get rid of teachers with low student test scores.

Under the law, the superintendent will identify and recommend to the school board 25 percent of those teachers working in the district with at least three consecutive years to receive four-year contracts beginning with the 2014-15 school year. Every year for the four years, $500 is to be added to the teacher’s base salary.

The teacher will provide a self-assessment at the beginning of the next school year, then undergo a series of classroom observations by the principal until they are graded either proficient, developing, distinguished, accomplished or not-demonstrated.

In February, state Sen. Phil Berger, who helped get the law passed, said it was intended to recognize and reward top-performing teachers, while promoting student achievement.

However, the N.C. Association of Educators filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court challenging the legality of the General Assembly’s repeal of teacher tenure.

Teachers and parents at Thursday’s meeting asked board members to take a stand against the law and follow Guilford County. They presented the board with petitions saying contracts would pit teachers against each other.

Three weeks ago, Guilford County’s school board voted to challenge the law, saying it was unconstitutional and asked that it not be subject to criminal sanctions for non-compliance. The Guilford County Board of Education also plans to sue the state.

“We feel it is divisive and the absolute worst way to go in terms of steps to ensure the best teachers for students in our system,” said Dabney Hopkins, who identified herself as a teacher at R.N. Harris Elementary in Durham.

Nicholas Grace-Gaber, a social studies teacher at Hillside High School, echoed her sentiments.

“Continue to stand with students and teachers,” Grace-Gaber said.

Teachers are not interested in competing for any scraps the legislators want to send their way, he said.

Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter assured the crowd that the board stands with those parents and students.

“We feel like taking these two steps is our way of showing our strongest support for our teachers who work so hard for us,” Carter said.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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