Judge sides with teachers in fight over tenure rights

By Alan Bulluck

May 18, 2014

Tenure status for veteran public school teachers is safe, at least for now.

On Friday, May 16, a Superior Court judge struck down a law that would have required veteran teachers in North Carolina’s public schools to surrender tenure status in favor of multi-year contracts and financial incentives, and Ashe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden expressed pleasure with the ruling.

“This is a great day for teachers in North Carolina,” Holden said.

Last year, the N.C. General Assembly included in its 2013-14 state budget a provision to eliminate teacher tenure by 2018, much to the dismay of many educators, school administrators and school boards across the state.

On Friday, Judge Robert Hobgood issued a ruling that stated the law violated the contract clause in the U.S. Constitution and was tantamount to the illegal seizure of property under the North Carolina Constitution.

“I think it’s (the judge’s ruling) wonderful,” Holden said. “It’s gonna do a lot to help morale for our teachers.”

In his ruling, Hobgood ruled the “contractual obligation is present with each public school teacher who has already been awarded career status and has an existing career contract with that teacher’s board of education. The state’s action would impair that contract.”

Rodney Ellis, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, the plaintiffs in the case, issued a statement praising Hobgood’s ruling.

“There were more than 50 school boards across the state who said they wanted this law repealed,” Ellis said. “The court said teachers should be protected from politics in the classroom. The administrators and teachers whose depositions were part of this lawsuit gave powerful testimony to the importance of due process and reasonable job protections.”

Under the law passed by the General Assembly last year, veteran teachers would surrender tenure status in favor of four-year contracts and $500 in annual salary increases. Contracts would be awarded to the top 25 percent of teachers in the school system.

In order to be eligible in ACS, a teacher must have taught in the district for a minimum of three consecutive years and scored proficient on all evaluation summaries.

Approximately 49 teachers in ACS were to be offered the four-year contracts this month, but Holden signalled there were a large number of teachers who wouldn’t accept the contracts in protest of the unpopular law.

While attorneys for the State of North Carolina have said they will appeal Hobgood’s ruling, the Ashe County Board of Education is wasting no time in moving forward in considering tenure for teachers who are eligible this year.

Holden said the Ashe County Board of Education will hold a special meeting at 7:15 p.m., Monday, May 19, to discuss awarding tenure to 10 teachers in ACS.

“We think the ruling is sound,” Holden said. “But if something changes, we’ll go back and reevaluate.”

While the board of education never issued a proclamation opposing the law, several board members were vocal opponents.

“It’s a shame and a disgrace that the state of North Carolina has put us in this situation,” board member Terry Williams said at the board’s March meeting. “As a teacher and a parent, it angers me.”

Board member Polly Jones stated the message being sent to teachers was there were “only 14 good teachers” in each school.

Lesia Nave, director of Human Resources for ACS and the one responsible for drawing up the contracts, said she believed it was “one of the worst things that’s ever happened in public education.”

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