Teachers present petition to school board over 25 percent law

A state law that puts 25 percent of a school system’s qualifying teachers in line for a pay bump continues to draw controversy and it appears an overwhelming majority of local teachers do not support the plan.

Details of the teacher pay law say only a quarter of a district’s eligible teachers can receive up to a four-year contract with a $500-a-year pay raise in exchange for their career status rights, also known as tenure. The move is part of an effort by lawmakers to phase out tenure completely by 2018.

The discussion on the best way to implement the legislation was a big topic at the February 24 Macon County Board of Education meeting. Superintendent Chris Baldwin recommended using the results from an online survey taken by faculty which overwhelmingly concluded they prefer a district wide lottery for the selection process.

However, after further discussion among the board as well as presentations from teachers during public comment, the school board decided they needed more time to further consider their options, tabling the decision to the March meeting.

Teacher Darlene Fromknecht made a plea to the school board to consider passing a resolution to the NC General Assembly opposing the proposed bonus policy. She presented the school board with a petition signed by area schools. Faculty from East Franklin, Mountain View Intermediate and Cartoogechaye signed the petition with 100 percent of the faculty at South Macon, Iotla Valley, Highlands School and Union Academy pledging their support for the petition. Ninety-four percent of the faculty at Franklin High School signed the petition. “Teachers are unsure and scared to sign the petition,” Fromknecht told the board when questioned about the six percent at FHS who didn’t sign the petition.

“We seek to maintain positive relationships with all of the families at our school and we recognize the intrinsic worth of every student and every family. We are colleagues and collaborators who work together to help our students succeed. We believe, without any doubt or hesitation that asking 25 percent of our teachers to forfeit their career status in exchange for a small bonus is 100 percent misguided,” said Fromknecht in her statement to the board.

“Our teachers are united in the belief that collaborating with colleagues, not competing against them, is the best way to improve our schools. Making us compete for money will not push us to work any harder or smarter than we already do every day,” added Fromknecht.

If the school board decides to pass such a resolution they will join eleven other North Carolina school boards that have passed resolutions including Pitt, Pender, Craven, New Hanover, Watauga, Mitchell, Alexander, Iredell, Guilford, Durham and Cumberland School Boards. Fromknecht presented sample resolutions from Durham and Pitt Counties for the board’s consideration.

The school board also listened to comments from John DeVille, social studies teacher at FHS. According to Deville, Macon County was the first school system in the state to unanimously support a resolution opposing the 25 percent plan, the ending of tenure and the voucher plan.

“What does it mean when 100 percent of teachers in a school agree on something; getting a 100 percent of people to agree on something is herculean,” said Deville. “This is all voluntary, there is no arm twisting; people are just so outraged. This is huge and I don’t know if you can find anything like this in Macon County or North Carolina history,” he added.

DeVille also told the board that on February 11th, the Guilford County School Board unanimously decided to willfully break the law. “I would not ask this board to take such action; I don’t think we have the financial resources or stature to do so. However, I do think when a county as diverse and large as Guilford County votes unanimously to break the law with 200 teachers in attendance because that is how bad this legislation is should be reason for a moment of pause for our state legislators,” said DeVille.

One concern the school board has expressed during this process, is making sure teachers aren’t made to feel obligated to accept or turn down the bonus offer. “No faculty have complained about teachers being put under undue pressure to make a decision one way or another, to take the bonus or not take the bonus,” Baldwin told the school board.

While the school board is considering options in deciding who will be chosen to receive the 25 percent bonus, Baldwin recommended the board consider the results of the survey which concluded teachers prefer a lottery system for the selection. The school board still has some time to further consider the issue, with final teacher selections and contract offerings due by July.

“This idea is not my idea or this board’s idea. This is not something I as Superintendent support; it is however the law at this point. The mandate states that the superintendent shall make these recommendations whether he wants to or not, whether he thinks it’s a good decision or not. It also states that the board will offer these contracts,” said Baldwin.