Schools to grapple with tenure loss

Sarah Willets Staff writer

January 14, 2014

LUMBERTON — Administrators with the Public Schools of Robeson County have until June 30 to offer the district’s top teachers four-year contracts as tenure is eliminated statewide — a requirement met with dismay from the the Board of Education during its meeting on Tuesday.

“This is an educational nightmare. It’s going to cause division in every county in the state,” Superintendent Johnny Hunt said. “We’re hoping this is going to be changed.”

Legislation passed by the General Assembly last year eliminates teacher tenure as of 2018. Accordingly, the top 25 percent of teachers who have worked three or more consecutive years in the same district will be offered four-year contracts as well as a $500 raise every year for four years, according to Assistant Superintendent Stephen Gaskins, who briefed the board on the new policies.

According to Gaskins, there are about 1,200 of Robeson County’s public school teachers who meet the three-year requirement. Hunt, with input from school principals and approval from the Board of Education, will be charged with narrowing that group down to the 25 percent who will received four-year contracts.

Teachers with fewer than three years in one district who don’t have tenure will be offered one-year contracts, according to Gaskins. Teachers with tenure will have their career status continued until June 30, 2018.

Critics of the new law say teachers may move to other states where they can earn tenure and higher salaries. The North Carolina Association of Educators filed a lawsuit against the state in December, saying the new law breaks a contract with teachers who took their jobs believing they could one day earn tenure.

Board member Jo Ann Chavis-Lowry expressed irritation with the legislation, asking the crowd to keep it in mind when voting for state representatives and senators in November.

“If someone was doing this to our General Assembly, there would be an uproar,” she said.

The board agreed to discuss criteria on how to pick the top 25 percent at a Policy Committee meeting before the next board meeting on Feb. 11.

Board members also heard about the state’s Read to Achieve program, which aims to have all students reading at or above their grade level by the third grade. Starting next week, principals and test coordinators in Robeson County will begin training in the program, according to Sandra Evans, curriculum supervisor for kindergarten through eighth grades.

At the end of this semester, all third-graders who do not pass their End of Grade tests will have the option to prove reading proficiency by taking a shorter Read to Achieve test about a week later. Students who do not pass that exam will be retained from moving onto the next grade.

Students who are retained can either take daily summer school classes or attend 90-minute sessions on each schools day until they can show proficiency on at least 36 of 120 standardized reading passages, called a portfolio. Teachers will receive 60 of the passages for use in their classrooms, according to Evans.

Which classes students take to gain proficiency will depend on the resources of their schools. The state has allotted $410,276 to the school system to cover the costs of the classes, including pay for teachers, according to Erica Setzer, chief finance officer. Evans said teachers who have shown the most growth will teach the reading courses.

In other business, the board:

— Approved a lease agreement, effective Feb. 15, with the town of Maxton for it to use the Townsend Middle School gym. The board had previously allowed the gym to be used for some community events. The town will be responsible for maintenance, utility fees and insurance, board Attorney Grady Hunt said.

— Approved Mike Setzer as Lumberton High School’s next football coach.

— Named Tish Hunt, who works at Rowland Middle School, the Bus Driver of the Month; Jessica Pate, a counselor at Rosenwald Elementary, the Certified Employee of the Month; and Shaun Rogers, a custodian at Rosenwald Elementary, the Classified Employee of the Month.

— Gave the Winter Beautification award to Pembroke Middle School. Students and staff planted flowers in the school’s courtyard and replaced its awning. Principal Darlene Cummings and Assistant Principal Reginald Oxendine accepted the award and $200 to put towards beautification at the school.

— Considered a recommendation by Assistant Superintendent Tommy Lowry to add Primary Health Choice to the school system’s crisis management team, which responds when a student has mental, behavioral or medical issues. The board previously worked with another agency, Monarch, but, according to Lowry, its fees were growing too high and the school system may have been billed for someone else’s services. The board will vote on whether to approve that agreement at its next meeting.

— Heard the results of an audit by Julia Kinlaw, of S. Preston Douglas and Associates, which stated that while the Public Schools of Robeson County’s revenue has remained largely the same, expenses have increased slightly.