LUMBERTON — The president of the Robeson Association of Educators doesn’t think there will be enough support from state legislators to pass a proposed Senate education reform package that calls for the elimination of teacher tenure and requires local school districts to set up a system of awarding teachers merit pay.
“It saddens me that the GOP is choosing to make poor decisions regarding public education,” said Jamie Burney, the association’s leader and a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Pembroke Middle School. “I don’t think they will be able to garner enough votes for this bill.”
The proposed reform package, unveiled Monday by Senate leader Phil Berger, proposes major changes in rules regulating teacher employment, teacher training and student academic requirements. In addition to eliminating teacher tenure and requiring teacher merit pay, the reform package includes increasing the school year by five days and establishes initiatives to improve reading skills, including a special summer literacy camp for third graders who are falling behind with their reading skills.
In announcing the school initiatives, Berger said most of the proposals should be well received because they are structured to better prepare students to graduate from high school and prevent the need for students to attend costly remedial classes at universities and community colleges. According to a report by The Associated Press, the cost of the proposed package for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $45 million.
Berger reportedly said he is aware that some of the proposals in the package, such as tenure elimination, will most likely be controversial. Debate on the “Excellent Public Schools Act” is likely to be high on the list of business to be conducted by state legislators when they return to Raleigh on May 16 for the General Assembly’s short session, the time when adjustments are made to the state budget.
Burney said that it is “absolutely” not true that there is no process in place to dismiss a poor teacher. He said that state law specifically lists 15 grounds for terminating a teacher. Among the grounds are: inadequate performance; immorality; insubordination; neglect of duty; mental or physical incapacity; and conviction of a felony.
“When a teacher receives tenure, it means they have met the qualifications for employment and ensures that there can be no retaliation made against them for personal or political reasons, ” he said.
Tenure is currently given to veteran public school teachers after a four-year probationary period working in the same district. The feeling of Berger’s office reportedly is that current policy makes it difficult to fire tenured teachers when administrators determine they are ineffective. Berger’s bill would change the policy to allow local school boards to employ all teachers on an annual contract that doesn’t have to be renewed each fall.
Burney said that the requirement that individual school districts set up a performance pay system for licensed personnel starting with the 2013-14 school year is also a concern.
“Personally, I don’t believe there is a fair way to implement a merit pay system,” he said. “It’s not fair to base merit pay on teacher evaluations, which can be fairly subjective, nor on how much student test scores increase.”
Dwayne Smith, a member of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education, calls the tenure issue a “sticky situation.”
“You don’t want to eliminate tenure altogether, but on the other hand, if you have a teacher that is not doing their job you don’t want it to take an act of Congress to get rid of them,” he said. “… I think every teacher should be accountable for their actions. If they are doing a good job they won’t have to worry their employment will be terminated.”
Smith said it is going to be difficult for local school boards to develop performance-based bonuses for teachers.
“It’s an issue of fairness,” Smith said. “… How do you compare the performance of teachers in a different schools, where one has 21 students in the classroom and another has 30 students?”
Local legislators wanted to know more.
“I’ll be meeting with local educators to get their ideas,” said Sen. Michael Walters, a Democrat. “I don’t want to comment until then.”
Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat, said he hasn’t yet read the bill but plans to “seek information from a variety of sources.”
“I certainly, as a former educator, advocate for our children to receive the best teachers and resources needed to provide the best possible education,” Graham said. “It’s our job as legislators to see that our teachers have all the tools they need to be effective teachers.”
G.L. Pridgen, the delegation’s only Republican, wants change.
“People need to realize that with tenure the way it is now, teachers are graded on the years they have worked and not on how they do their job,” Pridgen said. “Teachers should be graded on job performance, not years of employment.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.