Teachers across North Carolina rejoiced on Friday after hearing the news that North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood voted down the state’s new teacher tenure law by claiming it was unconstitutional.
The law, which was approved by state lawmakers last summer, was designed to eliminate teacher tenure and the protections that came along with it. After the law was enacted, school districts were given until June 30 to award teachers who haven't worked the four years needed to qualify for career status or tenure, one-year contracts, and four-year contracts, along with a cumulative $5,000 bonus for a select 25 percent of teachers. The law was designed to eliminate tenure completely by 2018.
Teachers across the state, including Franklin High School teacher John deVille, joined the North Carolina Association of Educators in a lawsuit against the state in hopes of overturning the law, and on Friday, a judge ruled in their favor. Hobgood stated in his ruling that abolishing teacher tenure "was not reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose."
Despite the ruling, both Macon and Jackson counties are moving forward with the selection process.
“At this time, we just are not really sure what the ruling means for districts across the state,” explained Macon County Schools attorney John Henning Jr. “I wasn’t sure why the original ruling that was given to Guilford and Durham county schools didn’t apply statewide, so I am not sure how this will affect us either.”
Jackson County is optimistic that the state litigation will rule in favor of the teachers. “Our district is very hopeful that the tireless efforts of NCAE will be successful and this law will be overturned permanently,” said Jackson County Superintendent Michael Murray. “I have publicly stated that this was an extremely divisive duty that superintendents were asked to perform. We certainly would fully support a pay raise for every member of our educational family that have not had a raise in seven years. Once we pay folks a basic survival rate then we can consider working through a fair merit pay formula.”
Judge Hobgood’s ruling issued an injunction into the law, but what exactly that entails is still unclear. As of Monday night, Henning said the Macon County district had not yet been sent any type of written notification regarding whether or not to proceed with the selection process. Without being given official notice, the Macon County School District met in executive session Monday night to select the 25 percent of teachers who will receive the contract offers.
Macon County has a total of 272 teachers that are eligible for consideration of the 25 percent. If all of those teachers were considered for the computer generated selection process, 68 would be offered contracts. But according to Macon County’s new Human Resource Director Terry Bell, about 50 percent of the eligible 272 teachers, opted out of being considered for the contracts altogether.
"Last night the Macon County School Board proceeded with our 25 percent plan," said Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin Tuesday. "Through a random selection process 62 names were chosen from a pool of 126 candidates. This means that 122 teachers opted out of the process. We are hopeful that Judge Hobgood’s ruling will be upheld and the permanent injunction that he rendered on the 25 percent will remain. If this happens the 25 percent process will be halted, and the list we generated last night will not be used."
In Jackson County, 183 teachers were eligible to receive contracts, and of those 183, a total of 101 chose to opt out of the process. Jackson County moved forward with their random selection of teachers Tuesday night during its regularly scheduled board meeting.
Without a written ruling or change in the procedure, both counties are working to meet the state deadline requiring that teacher contracts must be offered and accepted or rejected no later than June 30. Just because a teacher decided to forgo the opt-out option, if he/she is offered a contract, they can still refuse to accept it.
By accepting the contract, teachers voluntarily relinquish their tenure status and the protections that are associated with it. According to Henning, this portion of the law is what he believes is being deemed unconstitutional, although it is unclear.
Henning said that he did not think there was anything to say that the state couldn’t phase out teacher tenure, as they did in previous years involving tenure status for district administrators. What seemed to be in question, was the state’s right to take away the career status for veteran teachers, who have already been granted tenure status.
Macon County is scheduled to meet on June 16, but according to Bell, if no official decision has been handed down from the state by then, the school board will elect to hold off on finalizing the selection process until the absolute deadline date of June 30.