School board on board: New contract concerns lead to resolution

Published 9:24 pm Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Beaufort County Board of Education is joining a statewide movement of educators publicly expressing concern about a new law and its requirement that teachers give up tenure in exchange for four-year contracts with bonuses.

On March 24, Cindy Winstead, Board of Education chairman, and Don Phipps, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, signed a resolution asking the General Assembly allow to the board to use funding now allocated to the pension-bonus trade off  “as part of an effective and locally developed compensation plan.”

Beaufort County’s Board of Education is the 39th school board in North Carolina to join growing opposition to what many across the state are calling an unfair pay structure for teachers. For Beaufort County, the focus of the resolution is not outright opposition, however. It also seeks clarification, according to Phipps, in addition to requesting return of local control of money set to fund the plan.

“(The resolution) is not drawing a line in the sand saying ‘We’re not going to do this,’” Phipps said. “We’ve got to work with the folks in the General Assembly.”

The legislation enacted during the General Assembly’s last legislative session prompted the North Carolina Association of Educators to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the wholesale elimination of tenure. In March, the Guilford County Board of Education filed its own lawsuit against the state; the Durham Board of Education quickly followed.

By 2018, tenure for teachers, by law, will be done away with altogether, leaving teachers with the option of signing one, two or four-year contracts. Now superintendents, with the assistance of principals at local schools, have to figure out which 25 percent of the teacher work force deserves to have four-year contracts and the $500 a year pay increase that accompanies them. It is not an easy task, as there is no across-the-board way to evaluate every teacher in the system, or any guidance from state legislators as to how to do so, Phipps said.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the 25 percent must be chosen by June 30.

“It’s difficult, at best, to cap at 25 percent and difficult to find a standard to use,” Phipps said. “How do you compare someone teaching kindergarten to someone teaching advanced classes in high school? They’re both critically important.”

Phipps said while it is easy for administrators to identify, by number, the top 10 percent of performers and the lowest 10 percent of performers, the cap would cut out many good teachers.

“There are lots of other folks who don’t hit the top 25, but I would say they deserve the four-year contract just as much,” Phipps said.

Another issue with the legislation has to do with teachers who teach subjects that can’t be subjected to standardized testing, like art and band.

“There’s no EOG test, so how can you assess?” Phipps asked. “It’s very messy. There’s not an easy way to do it.”

The resolution points out several other concerns, not the least of which is that the new legislation does not address whether a teacher will be rehired after a four-year contract is over, nor any information on future compensation after the initial contract and bonuses.

The lack of information has led educators to take a harder look at the tenure-contract trade off.

“I think there’s a perception in the public that teachers are thumbing their noses at a raise,” Phipps said.

Phipps said that’s not the case.

While lawmakers have argued that contracts versus tenure will make room for more effective teachers and weed out the ineffectual, Phipps said that it is, again, public opinion that is forming the argument.

“I think there’s a general perception that someone hides behind tenure, so that ineffective teachers stay in the classroom — that they have (tenure) forever and that’s not true,” he explained, adding that mechanisms are in place to remove tenured teachers from their positions if necesssary.

Phipps said he expects that, in the end, close to, if not all, 100 county school boards in North Carolina will express their concerns in a similar fashion to Beaufort County Board of Education’s resolution. He stressed that the school board will abide by the law, but is seeking a way to work with legislators and reach established goals together.

“There’s a plus side for merit pay,” Phipps said. “We want to do things that reward the good work of our teachers and not just a few of them, but all of them who deserve it.”