The N.C. Association of Educators filed a second major education lawsuit in a week, this time challenging the end of tenure—otherwise known as career status—for North Carolina public school teachers.
The lawsuit, also filed by six classroom teachers, argues that the repeal of career status violates federal and state constitutions by taking away basic due process rights.
“We are giving the state constitution a work out,” said Ann McColl, general counsel for NCAE. “When we find that our fundamental values that we hold as a people, that are embodied in our state constitution, are disregarded and disrespected by the General Assembly, then it’s time to go to court.”
In a budget passed by state lawmakers this year, teacher tenure will be eliminated by 2018 and replaced with a teacher contract system. Under the new law, school districts are expected to offer one-year contracts to most teachers, while offering the top 25-percent of teachers four-year contracts and a $500 annual pay raise.
Unlike traditional tenure, career status does not guarantee lifetime job security to teachers, but does promise certain job protections, like the right to a hearing if ever dismissed or demoted.
‘Going Back On A Promise’
Richard Nixon, a history teacher at Corinth Holders High School, has taught in Johnston County for 25 years and says that by repealing career status, the state is failing to honor its contract with him.
“In return for my service to the children of North Carolina the state would grant career status - a promise that as long as I did a good job, I would have a good job,” he said. “In the course of my career, I have lived up to my contract. I expect my state to do the same. “
The plaintiffs argue that teachers under the new system will not have the right to protest a non-renewal of their contract, or know why they were not asked back.
Rodney Ellis, a sixth grade teacher from Forsyth County and president of NCAE, says the repeal of career status is only one part of the “full frontal assault on public education in North Carolina,” citing shrinking budgets and the elimination of extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees.
Last week, NCAE filed another major education lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of private school vouchers funded by taxpayer money.
Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis criticized both lawsuits, calling the most recent one “frivolous.”
“The union [NCAE] has made its blueprint clear: ‘if at first you don’t succeed at the polls, then sue, sue again,’” the Republican leaders said in a statement. “While union leaders are focused on succeeding in the courtroom, we’ll remain focused on our children succeeding in the classroom.”
Berger argues that teachers should receive contract renewals based on job performance as in many other professions, and that the current system does a poor a job of kicking low-performing teachers out of schools. He cited data from the last school year that says only 17 out of the 95,028 teachers were dismissed for cause.
The new law replacing career status provides $10.2 million to reward the top 25% of teachers, which will be chosen by local school boards.