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Teachers say new law will lead to "Hunger Games" mentality

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GREENVILLE, N.C. -

Has the "Hunger Games" invaded our schools?

Not the movie, of course, but its premise: competitors battling it out for the grand prize. In this case, that prize is a pay raise.

A new “Hunger Games” themed YouTube video by the North Carolina Association of Educators describes the new law as “teacher versus teacher in a fight for decent pay.”

"They’re out to get each other,” says Emily Klinedinst, a teacher and president of the Pitt County Association of Educators. “There's no helping each other. It's ‘One of us is going down. It's not going to be me.’ You know? And I just don't want to see that with teachers."

School districts have until June 30, 2014, to comply with a new state law, which says they must choose only 25 percent of their top teachers to get a four-year contract with built-in annual raises that total $5,000.

All other teachers will get one-year contracts and those who accept the raises would forfeit their tenure. All tenure would end in 2018.

It will be up to superintendents, senior staff and board of education members to choose the top teachers with little guidance from the state on which criteria to use when allocating the bonuses.

"We feel like it has the potential to be devastating to the morale of our teacher base,” says Brock Letchworth, public information officer for Pitt County Schools.

“Put yourself in the shoes of a teacher who's working alongside someone who received the pay raise, received a four-year contract and you did not. Yet you know that your qualifications may be right up there with that teacher. It certainly makes for an uncomfortable working environment."

The law says teachers eligible for the raise must have taught for three consecutive years and rate as “proficient” on evaluations. But Letchworth says at least 90 percent of Pitt County teachers meet those standards, which makes it tough to choose who gets the extra money.

"I think one of our hopes is that legislators will realize how ridiculous this is and something will be changed before this is supposed to go into effect,” he says.  

But state leaders say the law is meant to get rid of ineffective teachers, while rewarding the best ones.

"I think right now the only steps that we have [to reward teachers] are based on how long you've been in the profession,” says Eric Guckian, Gov. Pat McCrory’s senior education advisor. “And don't get me wrong, experience is important, but it's not the only thing."

“I think it should be about student achievement results, but it should also be about what are you contributing and how are you working in teams? How are we encouraging teachers to work in teams to bring about great results for kids?" he continued.

NCAE plans to file a lawsuit to challenge the elimination of teacher tenure. In the meantime, teachers worry implementation will transform schools in the worst possible way.

"Everything that we're about is collaboration, working together as a team,” Klinedinst says. “And is this going to pit us against each other? Is there going to be resentment against each other? Is it going to be competitive?"

Let the games begin.       

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