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Dispelling 2 Republican myths about teacher tenure changes

By Luke Largess
Special to the Observer

Last Friday’s Observer reported the misgivings of superintendents and school boards over the end of teacher tenure, and the challenge in determining who will be the 25 percent of teachers to be offered four-year contracts with $500/year pay raises. Sunday’s editorial also discussed these issues. But the Observer disserves this important discussion by continually repeating two Republican myths about these coming changes.

The first fable is that tenure must end because only 17 tenured teachers were fired in the 2011-12 school year. That number, from a line in the annual Department of Public Instruction report on teacher turnover, ignores the full DPI report and the story it tells.

The central fact: 11,791 teachers left their jobs that year, including 5,599 with tenure. Some tenured teachers left voluntarily, but DPI’s report shows that many were forced out. At several stages in the dismissal process, a tenured teacher can resign. The 17 “dismissed” teachers either went through the statutory hearing process to the bitter end, or never requested a hearing and were dismissed summarily. DPI’s 2012 data show that most teachers put in the dismissal crucible resign. 147 tenured teachers “resigned in lieu of termination” in 2012. And that figure also only tells part of the story.

Teachers facing dismissal will negotiate how to classify their resignation. 101 teachers resigned last year due to “job dissatisfaction,” and 172 left due to a “reduction in force.” Both are common, face-saving classifications for those forced to quit. Others just leave. 1,018 teachers resigned in 2012 for “unknown reasons” and another 339 were listed as “reason not given.” Republicans ignore this reality and repeat the refrain that “only 17 teachers were fired.” It fuels the agenda.

Which is a more critical policy issue: firing more teachers, or replacing the 12,000 who left last year, nearly half of them tenured and experienced?

The Republicans’ incentive to keep teachers suggests they either failed grade school math or mastered Machiavelli. They claim repeatedly that 25 percent of teachers will get a $5,000 pay-raise to waive tenure for a four-year contract. Those teachers will get $500 annual raises for four years. They will make $2000 more in the fourth year than they did in the first. Only a Scrooge would tell an employee feeding a family that this result is “really” a $5000 raise. Stop repeating this drivel uncritically.

A story you have never reported shows that this “reform” is really just bare-knuckled politics. In 2012, state budget cuts closed several Legal Aid offices and defunded all non-profits with sanctimony about funding only “core” functions. Yet the legislature found $3.7 million for an insurance fund that pays attorneys’ fees to teachers facing discipline or school-related criminal charges. Yes, taxes pay for teachers’ lawyers. No public hearings were held. Why fund this employee benefit during budget cuts? Because NCAE provides them. We got a vintage backroom deal solely to undercut enemy-number-one –a Democrat-leaning teachers’ association.

Please report the realities about the bromides in your discussion about public education.

Luke Largess is a lawyer with the Charlotte-based firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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