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Wednesday, 22 January 2014 14:49

Plan for teacher raises a bone of contention

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op frThe ramifications of one particularly disturbing directive passed in the last session of the General Assembly is unfolding right now in every county in North Carolina, and it promises to provide some spirited political drama that just about no one saw coming when it passed.

Legislative leaders decided they would provide meager pay raises of $2,000 over four years — yes, a whopping $500 a year — to 25 percent of teachers in each of the state’s school systems. The lawmakers decided it was best to leave it up to each school system to decide how to conjure up a fair formula to decide which teachers would get a raise and which wouldn’t.

 

Never mind that comparing elementary school counselors to high school AP history teachers might prove difficult, just as it might be to compare exceptional children’s teachers to those who teach low-level ninth-grade English. Who deserves to get a raise? And, if the criteria a school system sets means that just 20 percent of teachers make the grade, how do you choose which other 5 percent get a raise? Pull names out of a hat?

Superintendents and school boards are struggling right now to figure out how to do this without getting most of their staff pissed off. So far, the task is proving difficult.

“It is impacting teachers, so we want them to be part of this process. We want to develop a sound, reasonable process and then implement it,” said Bill Nolte, assistant superintendent in Haywood County.

“This has the potential of having people working against each other,” he added.

Indeed. The collaborative atmosphere that is such a vital part of public education — whether it’s working together on school-wide projects or developing a plan to help an individual student — is in danger of going up in smoke.

As an exclamation point to a pay raise deal that nearly every educator of any political stripe thinks is garbage, lawmakers inserted a little extra dose of public indignity — if you’re lucky enough to get chosen to receive the money, your name gets put in the public record for all to see and, if you take the money, you sign away the job protection rights commonly called tenure. Instead, you must agree to annual employment contracts.

Imagine how this could play out. Teacher Jane Doe, married to factory worker making $60,000 a year, is close to retirement and not really putting much into her job. In fact, she’s gotten lazy. However, she doesn’t need the money but wants to protect her job. She says no thank you, I’m not signing away my tenure rights. However, 26-year-old Jane Smith, single and paying back college loans, needs the money. She signs away her tenure rights for the money, but as everyone in her school knows she is a teaching superstar who does more for her students than anyone would have thought possible.

Under this scenario, the school system just got the right the fire Jane — the superstar — on a whim if it so chooses. Perhaps she gave the school board chairman’s child an “F” in a class he needed to pass in order to keep playing on the football team. Each school board now gets to approve the raises, and they also get to approve the contracts. Sounds like a potential to the return to the days of good ol’ boy politics to me, where those elected to political office get final approval on contracts. 

And, under this scenario, the best teachers sign away job protections while the marginal educators not offered raises still keep tenure. Hmmm, that’s a little bass-ackwards.

The more lawmakers try to make schools like a business, the more problems they create. Over the next few months, I’ll be watching closely to see how administrators handle this, how teachers deal with the fallout, and how the public and politicians react.

Some are already letting their thoughts be known. Lynn Milner, a former Haywood County principal and now a school board member whom I’ve admired for years, said the newspaper couldn’t quote what she had to say about these raises. I’d still like to hear those thoughts.

Jackson County Superintendent Mike Murray, however, came up with a fitting analogy we can print.

It’s “‘The Hunger Games’ of incentive packages,” he told a reporter.

Step up. Who wants to be chosen for the games?

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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