N.C. teachers sue over tenure

Brian Link spends his days helping his students chart the corners of the justice system. Now he’s taking his subject beyond the classroom as he joins five teachers and the N.C. Association of Educators in a lawsuit opposing the demise of teacher tenure.

“I teach civics and economics and spend a lot of time helping my kids to understand what their rights are — not only knowing them, but looking for avenues and opportunities to speak up for themselves,” Link said. “It would be very hypocritical of me as a teacher to expect that of my kids and not engage in that standard myself.”

The lawsuit, filed last month on the heels of an NCAE challenge to private school vouchers, furthers the divide between N.C. teachers and state policy. The issue of tenure, halted by the 2013-14 state budget, is fueling statewide discontent — but proponents say the policy fosters mediocrity.

A joint statement by Republicans N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger called the lawsuit “frivolous.”

Link is in his fourth year teaching at East Chapel Hill High School — when he would have been eligible for tenure. With tenure, teachers with four years of experience and positive evaluations are not required to renew annual contracts as long as their evaluations remain satisfactory, he said.

With the new policy, districts will offer their top 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts and a $500-per-year raise in place of tenure, which will be phased out by 2018. Veteran teachers will also lose the right to know why they are fired or the right to a hearing in the event of termination.

And stagnant salaries might tempt teachers into crossing state lines, said Rodney Ellis, president of NCAE. Teachers haven’t received cost-of-living raises in the last five years, Link said.

“It’s already happening,” said Jeff Nash, spokesman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Though the district has no stance on tenure, Nash said the state depends on an influx of out-of-state teachers.

Recruitment threatens to lag compared to other states, Ellis said.

“We’re going to see a mass exodus of good-quality educators from our state,” he said.

Within the state, the policy granting four-year contracts to the top 25 percent of each district’s teachers will sow divisive competition, he said.

“People aren’t working together, and that’s not what’s best for kids,” Link said.

Although opponents of tenure claim the new policy will boost accountability, Ellis said the new standards could lead to teachers being unfairly fired.

Tenured teachers aren’t guaranteed lifetime job security, Link said.

“(Opponents) suggest that only a handful of teachers were terminated in 2010 and ’11, but that’s just the teachers who went through the entire hearing process,” Ellis said.

Link said the new accountability standards place too much weight on standardized test performance.

“If you choose as a (college student) not to go to class, not to pay attention and then go and bomb an exam, no one suddenly says that was your professor’s fault,” he said. “All we’re asking for is the same fairness that you’d expect in any other profession.”

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