School board discusses change to tenure law

By Alan Bulluck

March 6, 2014

The Ashe County Board of Education will vote next month on whether or not to approve 4-year contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers in the school system.

Last year, the N.C. General Assembly included in the budget a provision that eliminates teacher tenure in 2018. The new law has proven to be a source of contention among veteran teachers.

“It’s gonna be divisive,” Ashe Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden said.

Lesia Nave, director of Human Resources for Ashe County Schools, presented the board with the system’s proposal for how they plan to select the 25 percent of teachers in the district.

In order to be eligible, a teacher must have taught a minimum of three consecutive years within the Ashe County school system and scored proficient on all evaluation summaries.

Those who are selected will have the option to opt-out once they’re offered contracts.

Approximately 49 teachers will be offered contracts in May. Holden said there will be nothing “arbitrary” or “capricious” about the way in which teachers are chosen.

“It will be a random selection process no matter what,” Holden said.

According to Holden, there’s a “large number of people who probably won’t accept (new contracts).”

Nave and several board members expressed their displeasure with the changes.

“There is nothing fair in this,” Nave said. “I believe this is one of the worst things that’s ever happened in public education.”

“It’s a shame and a disgrace that the state of N.C. has put us in this situation,” board member and former social studies teacher at Ashe County High Terry Williams said. “As a teacher and a parent, it angers me.”

Board member Polly Jones, also a former teacher in Ashe County schools, commented that the message being sent to teachers is that there are “only 14 good teachers” in each school.

Twelve school boards across the state, including Wake, Guilford, Durham, and New Hanover counties, have voiced public opposition to the state’s controversial new requirement that 25 percent of teachers surrender their tenure rights in exchange for a 4-year contract and bonuses. The Guilford school board went so far as to agree to file a suit to overturn the new policy. Several other boards are considering joining the suit.

The board will also vote next month on a proposed change to Ashe County High School’s attendance policy.

“The high school has a problem with attendance,” said high school English teacher Josh Beckworth. “It’s not just about students missing days, but the way we handle it.”

“It truly is a nightmare,” Williams said.

Under the current policy, in order to receive a passing grade, students are limited to five absences per semester. Those students who go over the limit can make-up missed days by spending 90 minutes in the cafeteria during fifth period, and that’s where the problem lies.

According to Beckworth, the current system allows for an “infinite number of absences.”

“If I miss 20 days, I’m able to sit in the cafeteria for 15 days,” Beckworth said. “I’ve then met the requirements of the attendance policy.

Last school year, 350 students, out of 992 enrolled in the school system, missed over five days.

The proposed policy would cap the number of absences at 10 for each semester.

“The 10 day policy will be a much stricter, much easier to enforce policy,” Beckworth said. “After 10 days, these students will automatically fail with no recovery time.”

Students would no longer be able to make-up missed days during fifth period.

Any student who misses more than 10 days of school would have the option of appealing before a waiver committee, but in order to do so the student would have to be in good academic standing.

Watauga and Wilkes Counties have similar attendance policies.

“This is a policy that I think reflects the desires of the school as a whole,” Beckworth said.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Williams said.

Holden concurred, “Sounds pretty good.”

In other action taken by the board:

• The board approved a calendar for the 2014-15 academic year. The first day of school for students is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 18 and depending on the weather, schools will be dismissed for summer at noon on Friday, May 29, 2015.

Alan Bulluck can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.