Educators like Mark Simmons, a social studies teacher at Mill Creek Middle School in Catawba County, could lose the tenured status they have had for years.
“It’s one of the few protections we still have,” Simmons said.
Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, described tenure as the right to due process for teachers. If a teacher feels like they were wrongly terminated, tenure gives them the opportunity to appeal the termination to a local school board, which will then call a hearing to decide whether the termination was lawful.
“It just prevents administrators from being able to fire teachers at will, and it’s important that we maintain it because North Carolina will be one of the few states that does not offer these types of due process protections to teachers,” Ellis said. “When teachers feel like they have at least those protection rights and benefits, then they are more likely to come to our state.”
He said the state can’t compete with others to get the best teachers, especially since North Carolina is one of the lowest ranking in terms of teacher salaries.
“The reality is, you can go across the border in any direction of our state and get an automatic $10,000 salary increase, plus due process rights,” he said.
Terry Stoops, the director of education studies at the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, said he believes removing tenure would help the state gain higher quality teachers.
“It’s one tool in the toolbox for administrators that they can use to get rid of bad teachers without having to worry about obstructions like the tenure or career status law,” he said.
Stoops said he believes the state first sought to get rid of tenure in order to give administrators more flexibility in how they can staff schools. Administrators also want to move to a system of short-term contracts for teachers, which would be awarded based on their ability and performance.
But Simmons said there is no reason to get rid of tenure to provide this flexibility, as there are still other ways to remove unsatisfactory educators. Tenure does not guarantee a teacher will keep their job, but it gives them more rights and helps them feel more secure.
Regardless of the case’s outcome, Stoops said tenure will be phased out within the next decade.
He said it’s unclear how the N.C. Supreme Court will rule, but they tend to favor many Republican policies passed in the General Assembly. They also have been strong proponents of protecting property rights — which is what teachers claim tenure provides.
Simmons said he is not optimistic about the case. Teachers like him might not agree with the outcome, he said, but they will continue to teach no matter what the court decides.
“We are there for the students, and we are there for the kids every day,” he said. “It’s about doing the best we can for our students and making sure they get the best possible education they can possibly get — and sometimes, I don’t think the state understands they’re driving teachers out that are killing themselves to do a great job.”