Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH — The leader of the North Carolina Senate revived a proposal Tuesday to end job-protecting tenure for veteran school teachers and to move forward a pay proposal that seeks to reward the best-performing classroom instructors.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, tried in 2012 to eliminate the career status that teachers can receive after four years in the same district, which makes it very difficult to remove poorly performing teachers. The House wouldn’t go along with the legislation on such short notice and also declined at the time to give merit raises for teachers.
Other provisions in his 2012 “Excellent Schools Act” became law, including those designed to improve reading by students in early grades and a new A-to-F grading scale for schools. Now with his second crack at a new “Excellent Schools Act,” Berger said he believes items left on the table in 2012 can get approved this year, particularly on teacher tenure.
“This is a different General Assembly and the problem still exists,” Berger said at a news conference to discuss the bill. “We’ve known for years that the one thing that does the most for improving student performance is to have a high-quality teacher in the classroom.”
Under the proposal filed Tuesday, certain job protections for veteran public school teachers would end in the fall 2014 school year. First, local school boards by the end of 2013 can offer four-year contracts to teachers with at least three years’ experience. For the next school year, veteran teachers would be offered salaries from one to four years. Teachers with less than three years’ experience in one district would still be limited to one-year deals. Local boards also could decline to renew contracts.
The proposal, Berger said, would increase accountability among teachers and provide an incentive to perform well.
“Our current system in many respects rewards mediocrity (and) punishes excellence by granting unlimited job security to all who teach a few years,” he said. Berger also envisions performance pay will reward the best teachers based on what the bill calls a “robust” evaluation process that has yet to be finalized.
A 2012 law asked school districts who created their own merit-pay plans to offer suggestions to legislators before April 15.
Democrats jumped on Berger’s new legislation, saying it would devastate a teaching field that has received one small raise in the past four years. North Carolina’s public school teacher salaries now rank 46th in the country, according to a State Board of Education report. Five years ago, North Carolina was in the middle of the state rankings. There is no money in the bill for higher pay.
“Communities across this state are already struggling to recruit and retain quality teachers and now Republicans in Raleigh are making that task even tougher,” Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said in a statement. “Good teachers need to be respected as professionals, not threatened and intimidated, if we really want to improve our classrooms.”
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state’s largest teacher lobbying group, said the bill takes away due process for career teachers who would shift to one-year contracts.
Berger’s bill — also introduced by Sens. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County and Dan Soucek of Watauga County — also would tinker with the new A-to-F grading system for parents to evaluate their child’s school based on whether schools exceeded, met or failed to meet growth goals on student performance tests.
The legislation also would:
— Attempt to strengthen literacy teaching components for teacher licensure requirements and professional development.
— Reduce the number of days when students can take end-of-grade and end-of-course tests to increase the number of instructional days.
— Allow state workers to volunteer for up to five hours a month in public school literacy programs.