Teachers protest tenure law

Feb. 18, 2014 @ 10:09 AM

Continuing their offensive against a state law abolishing teacher tenure, Durham educators on Monday asked the school board to join their counterparts in Guilford County and not complying with the controversial legislation.
The Guilford County school board has called the law unconstitutional, vowed not to comply and directed the superintendent to file a lawsuit seeking relief from the Republican-backed legislation that requires school districts to award 25 percent of teaches four-year contracts and offer bonuses to those who voluntarily give up tenure.“By declining to comply, the Guilford County School Board has offered a meaningful challenge to a troublesome law, a law that neglects to explain how it will be funded, negates the powerful force of teacher collaboration and ignores the importance of due process,” said Alexa Goff, a Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School.
Goff was one of about two dozen teachers, parents and other supporters who gathered at the Fuller Administration Building late Monday afternoon to address the teacher tenure law and to hand over letters of protests signed by more than 500 teachers who pledged to decline contracts if offered them by the school district.
In December, the Durham school board adopted a resolution in asking the General Assembly to repeal the law, which the Republican majority in Raleigh see as a more efficient way to get rid of low-performing teachers.
Under the law, Durham would offer contracts to 355 of its eligible employees – 292 of them teachers and the rest members of the district’s support staff.
School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, who attended Monday rally along with several other school board members, didn’t commit to not comply with law, but said the board will examine further action it might be able to take.
“We’re being careful and deliberative,” Carter said. “I’m meeting Thursday with the 10 largest school districts in the state to talk about potential next steps.”
Carter said the important thing for the Durham school board is to continue doing everything possible to support teachers.
“We want to do all that we can to hold them in Durham and keep them for the long haul,” Carter said. “We know that teachers grow on the job, get better over time.”
One of those teachers, Neshonda Cook, a fifth-grade teacher at Eno Valley Elementary School who was named that school’s Teacher of the Year on Monday, said she is also a DPS parent who values the work that teachers do in the classroom each day.
“I have quite a few dogs in this fight,” Cook said. “I’m fighting for myself, my job, my peers, my children, your children, our children. We’re all stakeholders and I think what the governor [Pat McCrory] and the General Assembly is trying to do to public education is absolutely ridiculous and I’m not going to stand for it.’    
Teachers throughout Durham Public Schools and across the state contend the law is divisive because it pits teachers against each other in a competition for four-year contracts and modest bonuses.
They also complain that the law eliminates current job protections and certain due-process rights, and is one of several recent policy decisions that have devalued the teaching profession in North Carolina. 
Other such decisions, they contend, include the elimination of teaching fellows, the elimination of extra pay for advanced degrees and the lack of any substantial pay increase over the past several years.
“It’s important that we recognize that what you’re seeing here today in Durham is just a small example of the upsurge of support from teachers and parents around the state for our public schools,” said Nicolas Graber-Grace, a Hillside High School social studies teacher.
Kathy McCullen, a librarian at Parkwood Elementary School and 11-year veteran of the classroom, took issue with McCrory’s proposal last week to only raise teacher pay for starting teachers.     

Under the plan, pay for beginning teachers would increase from $30,800 to $35,000.

“Teacher pay in North Carolina is abysmal and this new plan only addresses the issue of starting pay,” McCullen said. “What about our experienced teachers. Research shows that experience matters when it comes to academic achievement.”
McCullen said veteran teachers often take over important leadership roles, often serving as department chairs and in other high profile posts.
“They are the glue that holds good schools together,” McCullen said. “If we’re committed to student success, then veteran teachers must be retained in our schools.”
She said proposal to raise teacher pay for beginning teachers is only an “election-year gimmick” to help the GOP retain power.
“The polls show that North Carolinians favor fair pay for teachers,” McCullen said. “McCrory’s plan is about limiting the damage to him party in the November election.”