LUMBERTON — There is a growing movement across the state for a teacher protest on Nov. 4, but it hasn’t taken hold in Robeson County yet, even though local educators aren’t happy with their treatment during the recent legislative session.
“I know there are ongoing attempts to solicit participation, although I don’t believe there’s widespread support here,” John Campbell, a member of the Robeson County Board of Education, said in a statement.
Teachers across the state are upset by legislation that gradually eliminates tenure and bonuses for teachers who hold master’s degrees and instead offers pay raises based on merit.
There was initial talk about teachers skipping school on Nov. 4, but that talk turned to what is being called a “walk in,” a day to promote unity among educators. The North Carolina Association of Educators, which is pushing the event, want teachers to wear red and walk into school together that morning.
Legislation adopted this summer directs school districts to offer their top teachers a chance to sign four-year contracts in exchange for pay raises totaling $5,000. By 2018, all teachers would work under one-, two- or four-year contracts that replace tenure rights, which require school administrators to follow a defined process when terminating a teacher.
Teresa Davis, a music teacher at Lumberton High School and president of the Robeson Association of Educators, said tenure for public school teachers does not exist.
“There’s actually a misconception that teachers have tenure,” she said, adding that teachers work on either career-status or probationary-status contracts.
Davis said state law already mandates that schools follow procedures “where a teacher can be dismissed for poor job performance,” which makes the recently-passed statute redundant.
“It’s an unnecessary law because we already have a law in place,” she said. “Principals, administrators and superintendents need to use it.”
Davis said career-status contracts are earned.
“You do have to do a certain amount of work of a high quality to attain career-status,” she said. “You’ve actually proven your worth and proven your value in the classroom. Schools feel a little more comfortable knowing they’re not going to have people walk out the door whenever they choose to.”
Three members of the Robeson County Board of Education had differing opinions about tenure.
“I think our teachers deserve and have earned these benefits,” Gary Strickland said in a statement. “The state of North Carolina has made them the fourth-lowest paid teachers in the nation. Why try to take more from them?”
Dwayne Smith said tenure makes it unnecessarily difficult for schools to fire ineffective teachers.
“Good teachers won’t have a problem with this [law],” Smith said. “It’s the bad ones who will be fighting this all the way.”
Campbell supports tenure and said that the new law will force schools to play favorites with their teachers.
“The new North Carolina law that eliminates job protections and shifts toward paying teachers based on job performance does not provide an evaluation system that objectively distinguishes teachers between the best and the rest,” Campbell said. “There’s no rational, fair way for administrators to rank-order teachers in order of effectiveness to determine which teachers qualify for the $5,000 bonus.”
Campbell said the law may push teachers out of the state.
“North Carolina is one of the lowest paying states in the nation for teachers,” he said. “One reason to accept low wages is a promise of reasonable job security. That will be eliminated. The job of recruiting and retaining teachers will suffer unimaginable setbacks.”