Durham, Guilford take tenure battle to court

Mar. 18, 2014 @ 01:59 PM

The school boards in Durham and Guilford counties have filed suit asking the court to invalidate a state law created to end teacher tenure.

The boards filed their lawsuit Monday in Guilford County Superior Court.

Besides asking the court to invalidate the law, the suit seeks “temporary and permanent” relief from a provision that requires North Carolina school boards ask 25 percent of teachers to give up vested tenure rights by June 30 in exchange for a four-year contract and bonuses of $500 a year.

Board members contend that the controversial legislation puts them in the “untenable position” of implementing the law, which would violate the United States and North Carolina constitutions.

“There are legitimate and real concerns about the constitutionality regarding this legislation,” said Alan Duncan, chairman of the Guilford County board, in a statement. “The courts exist for this very purpose, to settle questions of law.”

The boards also worry that a refusal to implement the law could put the boards at risk of litigation.

The lawsuit notes a Feb. 7 letter the Guilford board received from Special Counsel Gerry F. Cohen of the N.C. General Assembly’s Legislative Services Office. It indicated that local boards failing to comply with the state mandate could face criminal prosecution.

The boards also complain that the language in the legislation is vague and would force superintendents to “make ad hoc, arbitrary, and/or subjective decisions” about which teachers are eligible and which teachers are excluded in the so-called 25 percent mandate.  

“I’m glad this motion has been filed,” said Heidi Carter, chair of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. “I’m anxious to see what the court decides.”   

The 25-percent mandate and the law to end all teacher tenure in North Carolina by 2018 are backed by Republicans in the General Assembly. They contend that ending tenure will give school districts a more effective tool to get rid of bad teachers.

Carter said the board is clearly opposed to the legislation, which she contends is disrespectful and discourages collaboration among teachers.

“We do not think that is the way to reward excellence in teaching,” Carter said.

The lawsuit focuses on teachers who already have earned tenure and not those who might earn it moving forward.

“We think that’s a vested right that these teachers have already earned,” Carter said. “It would be unfortunate to take that away.”

Hundreds of DPS teachers have signed letters pledging to refuse the contracts if the school district offers them.

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.
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.

The Wake County school board adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly to repeal the law, but decided against filing a lawsuit or preparing an affidavit in support of the N.C. Association’s lawsuit – as the Durham school board has agreed to do -- seeking to overturn the law.