Tenure for teachers tied-up in legal limbo

By Alan Bulluck

July 3, 2014

Ten teachers in Ashe County Schools (ACS) who were eligible for tenure status this year will have to wait at least another year, or perhaps even more, depending upon future legislation and legal rulings.

Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden and Associate Superintendent Phyllis Yates updated the board on discussions the two have been having with Fred Johnson, the board’s attorney, at the board’s regular meeting on Monday, June 30.

According to Yates, Johnson advised the school system that the board is not allowed to grant tenure status at this time, despite a recent ruling by a North Carolina Superior Court judge.

On May 16, a judge struck down a law that would have required veteran teachers in North Carolina’s public schools to surrender tenure status in favor of multi-year contracts and financial incentives, a ruling that led some to believe tenure was back in play for those who were eligible. However, according to Johnson, the only legislation that was stopped by Judge Robert Hobgood’s ruling was the 25 percent rule and taking tenure, or career status, away from long-term educators.

Last year, the General Assembly included in its 2013-14 state budget a provision to eliminate teacher tenure by 2018, much to the dismay of many educators, school administrators and school boards across the state. Under the law, veteran teachers would surrender tenure status in favor of four-year contracts and $500 in annual salary increases. Contracts would be awarded to the top 25 percent of teachers in the school system.

Hobgood issued a ruling that stated the law violated the contract clause in the U.S. Constitution and was tantamount to the illegal seizure of property under the North Carolina Constitution.

In his ruling, Hobgood ruled the “contractual obligation is present with each public school teacher who has already been awarded career status and has an existing career contract with that teacher’s board of education. The state’s action would impair that contract.”

To be eligible for tenure in North Carolina public schools, a teacher had to have taught a minimum of four consecutive years in the same district.

Approximately 10 teachers in ACS were eligible for tenure this year: three from Ashe County High School, three from Ashe County Middle School, one from Blue Ridge Elementary School and three from Westwood Elementary School.

The 10 teachers were instead awarded one-year contracts for next school year.

In other board-related business:

• The 13th annual Board Endowment Golf Tournament is scheduled to take place Wednesday, July 16 at Jefferson Landing. Money raised from the event goes to awarding grants to teachers for special projects.

• Teachers will report back to work Tuesday, Aug. 12. The first day of school for students is Monday, Aug. 18.

Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.