Thousands of North Carolina teachers will soon get something they haven’t enjoyed for the last five years – the job security of a multi-year job contract that ends the year-to-year anxiety of whether they will be rehired.
The state legislature’s five-year moratorium on multi-year teaching contracts, part of its efforts to eliminate teacher tenure, ends July 1. Now school districts across the state are developing new policies for next school year and beyond that will allow them to offer teachers employment contracts of up to four years.
The decisions districts make could affect their ability to recruit and retain teachers. Many educators say they prefer longer-term contracts that allow them to feel more settled in their jobs.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools needs to start crafting a plan quickly, lest other districts get ahead and gain a competitive edge in hiring teachers for 2018-19, says Erlene Lyde, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators.
“Spring is coming soon, and that’s when you’ve got to decide who gets what contracts,” said Lyde, a veteran teacher who is still covered by tenure. But for newer hires, the year-to-year contracts can create anxiety.
“I get my contract every year and it’s a one-year contract,” said Nancy Bergquist, a fourth-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School in Raleigh. “You’re not guaranteed that next year.
“They say if your evaluations are good more than likely you’ll have that. But there’s always that thought in the back of your mind: What if I don’t get that contract? That’s a little scary.”
State lawmakers say the new system is better because it will let each school district decide how best to employ teachers instead of having the state dictate what’s provided under tenure.
“It’s my belief that not everyone in any profession should be in that profession,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and House education leader. “There are lawyers who should not be lawyers. There are doctors who should not be doctors. There are legislators who should not be legislators, and there are teachers who should not be teachers.”
Before 2013, North Carolina teachers had one-year contracts until they successfully completed a four-year probationary period to receive “career status,” commonly called tenure.
Teachers with career status could still be fired under 15 reasons listed in state law, including inadequate performance, immorality, neglect of duty and a reduction in a district’s teaching force. Teachers had due process rights to appeal the dismissals.
Republican legislators argued that teachers shouldn’t be given any greater job protections than other professions. Teacher groups argued that educators deserved the additional rights to protect them from political pressures in their communities where jobs could be decided by changes in school board membership and whether teachers got along with their principal.
Lawmakers also cited the low number of dismissals to argue that tenure protected ineffective teachers, a claim hotly disputed by teacher groups that said career status was not the equivalent of guaranteeing a job for life.
“I think it’s much better when you make it easier to get rid of someone who isn’t doing their job,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale and Senate majority whip.
Lyde said she thinks the contract change hasn’t been on CMS’ radar because the district just went through a leadership change. Clayton Wilcox started as superintendent in July. He promptly reassigned the chief of human resources but hasn’t named a permanent replacement yet. No one from CMS central offices was available to discuss teacher contracts Wednesday, after schools had dismissed for winter break.
At the last school board meeting of 2017, Lyde urged the board to get started on plans for two- and four-year contracts, starting by looking at what Wake, Chapel Hill and Durham schools are doing.
If CMS isn’t ready to offer long-term contracts during the spring hiring season, Lyde said Wednesday, teachers working year-to-year may feel like “nobody is committing to me here so I can look elsewhere.”