Durham schools could join fight over tenure

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 10:33 PM

The Durham Public Schools Board of Education on Thursday took steps that could lead to joining lawsuits against legislation to end teacher tenure in North Carolina.

The board was unanimous in its decision authorizing Chairwoman Heidi Carter to work with the attorney for the N.C. Association of Educators and to provide an affidavit supporting the association’s lawsuit to maintain the tenure rights of teachers.

It also authorized the school board’s attorney to ask the attorney for the Guildford County Board of Education if it would be “helpful or practical” for Durham to join any lawsuit it might file against state legislation requiring school districts to offer contracts to 25 percent of their teachers.

“It’s our way of showing our strongest support for our teachers who work so hard for us,” Carter said.

The board’s action came after a closed-door meeting, on a night when several teachers appeared before the board to give thanks for the board’s opposition to offering contracts as the state moves toward eliminating tenure.

Dabney Hopkins, a teacher at R.N. Harris Elementary School, said the legislation worries the school’s staff.

“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,” Hopkins said.

She presented the board with a petition signed by the majority of teachers at the school pledged to refuse the contracts if offered.

Nicholas Graber-Grace, a social studies teacher at Hillside High School, presented a similar petition signed by some teachers at E.K. Powe Elementary School, where his child attends school.

“We urge you to continue standing with teachers and students,” Graber-Grace said.

Teachers from dozens of other schools across the school district have pledged to refuse contracts and bonuses if they are offered them.

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.

Ken Soo, attorney for the Durham school board, said Guildford plans to seek a declaratory judgment that invalidates the law so that it is not held legally liable for not complying.

He said that board has not yet filed a lawsuit.

“It could come soon, as early as Friday (today),” Soo said.

Teachers throughout DPS 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.

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.