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NC group urges teachers to reject contract offers

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Teachers protest during a Moral Monday demonstration. (Jeff Reeves, WNCN) Teachers protest during a Moral Monday demonstration. (Jeff Reeves, WNCN)

A group representing North Carolina teachers said Monday it is expanding efforts to fight a state law that phases out job protections in place for more than 40 years in favor of employment contracts that supporters say will promote sharper classroom performance.

The North Carolina Association of Educators is urging teachers statewide to protest Wednesday against the state's decision to scrap requirements that school administrators follow a defined process when firing a teacher. The new law approved last year ending teacher tenure starts a five-year process that moves all educators into employment contracts that make it easier for them to be dismissed.

The NCAE wants teachers to pledge that they won't accept offers of a four-year contract with pay raises totaling $5,000 in exchange for giving up tenure rights earlier. The state law directs school districts to pick the best 25 percent of its classroom teachers and offer them the tenure-ending contracts beginning this year.

"It's a show of unity and teachers standing together and showing support for one another," said NCAE President Rodney Ellis. The law offering raises to a quarter of selected teachers was "divisive" because some of the best teachers will resist sharing classroom tips with colleagues they may see as potential rivals for raises, Ellis said.

The protest will come a week after Gov. Pat McCrory's teacher advisory committee recommended that he work to modify the tenure law with "concrete standards" for selecting teachers who receive contracts and bonuses.

The committee's recommendations, released Monday by McCrory's office, said "teachers support the elimination of tenure, as long as there is a career pathway based on a variety of factors and clear, objective standards."

The panel also said the state — now near the bottom in teacher pay — should raise the current base pay for new teachers of $30,800 to make it more competitive with other states. The pay scale also should be frontloaded to focus on the first 15 years of teaching, and annual experience-based increases should be granted only to those who meet proficiency requirements, the report said. Teachers also should be rewarded with higher pay for advanced degrees, which is being phased out, or get money to pay for such a degree, it said.

Veteran teachers lose their tenure protections in 2018. Beginning with the current academic year, teachers who haven't worked the four years in a school district needed to qualify for career status were being offered one-year contracts, the lawsuit said.

North Carolina law for more than 40 years has said veteran teachers can't be fired or demoted except for a series of listed reasons that include poor performance, immorality and insubordination. Career teachers also have the right to a hearing where they can challenge the reasons offered for their firing or demotion.

The NCAE is aiming to increase protests by teachers that have included petitions, walk-outs and lawsuits against a series of legislative changes last year. In December, the group filed lawsuits against the end of teacher tenure as well as a law that will allow taxpayer money to be used by low-income students wishing to attend private or religious schools.

A spokeswoman for state House Speaker Thom Tills, R-Mecklenburg, did not respond to a request for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, declined to comment until more details of the NCAE's protest are known.

A handful of local school districts have adopted resolutions urging that the teacher contract plan be repealed by lawmakers. Guilford County's school board is expected to vote next week on a proposal to reject the law's requirement that they selected about 980 teachers in their district out of nearly 4,000 eligible to receive four-year contracts and accompanying raises, The News & Record of Greensboro reported.

The North Carolina law made the state the second after Florida to drop tenure protections in favor of employment contracts, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. Teachers in Washington, D.C., also lack tenure rights. Rhode Island allows the teachers to be fired if they have two years of being evaluated as ineffective.

A lawsuit that started in Los Angeles last week challenging California's law granting tenure rights to teachers is being closely watched by educators around the country.

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