Why Are Teachers in North Carolina Being Asked to Swap Due Process for a Pay Raise?

Money-TrapIf you were an educator in the state that ranks 46th in teacher salaries and have received only a paltry one percent pay raise in five years, the prospect of securing a bonus of $5000 should be welcome news.

But what if the pay hike was contingent upon you trading away every shred of due process and job protection that you’ve earned?

And then there’s this: you’ll receive $500 the first year, but as for the lion’s share of the bonus? That’s supposed to arrive over four years but it hasn’t been budgeted and so … well, who knows?

Suddenly, this pay increase probably sounds less enticing, or maybe even a little foreboding. But this is the carrot that is being dangled in front of many educators in North Carolina. In December 2013, the General Assembly attached a provision to a budget bill that strips teachers of what sponsors call “tenure” in 2018. Moving forward, school boards will offer either 1-,2-, or 4-year contracts. At the end of each contract, teachers can be summarily dismissed by the board. In addition, 25 percent of the state’s educators will be eligible for a four-year contract with the $500 increases – if they opt in now and kiss their rights to due process goodbye.

Lawmakers who support the measure, including Governor Pat McCrory, are banking on the public believing the myth that educators in North Carolina have “tenure,” said teacher Rich Nixon of Johnston County.

“It’s the politicians who are stoking this misperception. Either they don’t understand the issue themselves or they do and they’re intentionally misleading the public,” says Nixon.

‘Who Wants to Take That Job?’

In North Carolina, teachers who have taught for four years at a proficient level are granted “career status,” which provides a limited measure of job protection and due process to ensure fair treatment if facing dismissal or demotion proceedings. Career status does not, by any stretch, offer the guarantees under tenure and educators can be dismissed for any number of reasons.

Nixon is one of six plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought last December by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) that alleges that the career status repeal violates the federal and state constitutions by eliminating basic due process rights.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis calls the repeal the latest in the “full frontal assault by the legislative majority on public education in North Carolina.” It is not only unconstitutional but will also degrade the teaching profession and push more educators out of state, according to Ellis.

“It’s no wonder teachers are leaving here in droves and students are the ones who suffer.”

And forget about attracting young people into the profession, says Nixon.

“Before folks would understand that the pay wasn’t going to be great, but the benefits were pretty good and you could count on some degree of job security if you did a good job for the state,” Nixon explains. “Now we’re telling then ‘rotten pay, crumbling benefits, and you can be dismissed at the end of the year for no reason.’ Who wants to take that job?”

So, what about that “25 percent”? Under the new law, local school boards will draw from a list compiled by the superintendent, based on evaluations and performance of “proficient” teachers who have been employed for at least three years. Each of these educators will then be offered bonus pay – if they voluntarily give up all rights under career status now, four years before the repeal goes into affect.

The idea of being selected one of the “25 percenters” has generated a mixture of puzzlement, trepidation and even anger in many North Carolina teachers, including Dyane Barnett. Barnett, an elementary school teacher in Cary, says too many questions haven’t been answered.

“Everyone in my school is talking about this and we’re very concerned about all the possible ramifications,” Barnett says. “What happens if a teacher opts out? Then where does the money go (apparently not to the next teacher in line)? Will a list of teachers who opted in be made public? Can career status be regained if the law doesn’t go into effect in 2018?”

“What kind of profession makes their best employees surrender an accomplishment to get a raise?” Barnett asks. “I work in a great school and I have tremendous respect for my colleagues but this kind of law only pits teacher against teacher by promoting competition and divisiveness. This is having a real chilling effect on teachers everywhere.”

“The Legislature’s intent is to buy out those experienced educators who are likely to be very vocal about losing their due process rights and about a lot of other issues affecting public education in the state,” adds Nixon. “Students will lose important advocates. That is what these lawmakers want.”

Educators Keep Up the Pressure

In January, NCAE launched the “Decline to Sign” campaign to urge its members who might fall into the pool of the 25 percent not to accept the four-year contract and to encourage local school boards to pass resolutions in opposition of the contract. Thousands of educators – including non-NCAE members – have signed the petition and already 25 percent of school districts have signed resolutions against the repeal , including the state’s largest, Wake County.

In addition, Guilford County was the first local school board to file a lawsuit. Durham County has joined the suit and has signed an affidavit supporting NCAE’s legal action. Durham County School Board Chair Heidi Carter called the repeal of career status “destructive to public education.”

NCAE’s lawsuit will move forward unless the legislature reverses course. As opposition mounts, signs of backpedaling have begun to emerge. Educators caution, however, that McCrory and his supporters in the General Assembly have made conciliatory remarks before to placate opposition, but forged ahead regardless on a host of bills that have been ruinous to public schools. Still, Ellis is optimistic that the fight over due process in North Carolina is far from over.

“We’re in a good position. Educators are mobilized everywhere and lawmakers are really feeling the pressure.”

  • Ann Petitjean

    One small additional fact. We have also not received a step increase in more than five years! The morale is at an all time low and yet our educators return to work to do the work they love.

  • Deb Gustafson

    In order to provide an environment of success for students, teachers must share, collaborate and work together. This 25% contract law will cause divisiveness among educators. It is a sad day for public education in the state on North Carolina. I urge everyone to become an educated voter and make sure to VOTE! Our voices need to be heard.

  • Kelly

    Its a sad day in education everyday because of unions. Our public schools are failing our kids and if trying something different works, go for it!

  • Anne

    The NCAE is NOT a union. Participation in this association ( that informs and advocates for educators and issues of concern to them) is purely voluntary. North Carolina ‘ s teachers are being targeted by the NC General Assembly – seemingly for wanting for career educators the same compensation, job security, and due process that other public employees (also non- unionized) enjoy.

  • You know Kelly, meaning no disrespect to you, but your comment is typical of those who think everything if fine until it hits their doorstep. We Teachers
    have families and are people too. We need to live and support our families above the poverty level. Why should we sit back and allow the Legislature, their friends/businessmen and everyone else, who makes thousands of dollars more than the people who are actually doing the work,get away with whatever they feel like doing to public education, our children, this state and this generation?

  • Karen

    There is NO teachers’ union in North Carolina. Teachers are not allowed to join a union. NCAE is a professional association, not a union. Any teacher who votes for a Republican is putting a stake in the heart of the public education system in NC, and in every other state!

  • Pam

    Kelly, public schools are not failing our kids. Legislators are failing are kids. Imagine being a recruiter for a NC public school system, trying to get teachers to leave their home state to teach in NC where the population is growing and we need teachers. We’re 46th in the nation for teacher pay, we have no cap on class sizes, you won’t get paid for your master’s degree and you’ll never achieve tenure which means you be fired at will at any point.

    How can NC expect to recruit and keep the best and brightest under those conditions?

  • Megan Oakes

    NC Teacher Survey (Evaluation and Merit Pay)

    UNCW Professor, Janna Siegel Robertson and I are seeking your participation and assistance in distributing a statewide survey that will serve to evaluate how teacher evaluation and merit pay reforms are impacting teachers across the state of North Carolina.

    Our goal is to collect enough data to fairly represent the opinions of NC teachers that will later be combined with other statewide data and relevant literature to make appropriate recommendations to the state legislature. So please feel free to forward this message to any other NC teachers or teacher organizations that you feel would be interested in participating!
    To participate in the survey go here:

    Thank you for your assistance in this endeavor!

    Megan Oakes

  • Lisa

    Until we put the blame where it belongs, there will be no advancement of student learning. The problem is not the hard working dedicated teachers, it is the not so hard working undedicated students!!! Make students accountable for their learning. Until our politicians get this mindset, there is only one direction education will continue to go. Teachers put the knowledge in the student’s hand, but we can not make the student grasp it and use it. They must WANT to learn!!!

  • Dan

    Looks like NC is finding a way to legally replace every real science teacher with a creationist. To replace every real history teacher with a confederate apologist. To replace literature with scripture.

    Math teachers can keep their jobs… so long as they agree that x+y = Jesus.

  • Lawrence Zajac

    This is just part of a national “race to the bottom” regarding consideration of educators. I imagine all it will accomplish is to push educators to other states and glut their pools of available workers so that they in turn could pare away union protections and try to rid themselves of the more seasoned (and expensive) teachers.

  • Wolfgang

    The fact that such horrible progress, defence, and pay stagnantation has been done shows how horrible the union is! If it was sooo great, this wouldn’t happen.
    The teachers unions are very weak and mostly due to teachers lack of back strength. Many times teachers are not willing to strike. There’s always teachers that say, “what about my students, I can’t do that to them” and then future teachers are robbed of compensation. It is sickening. I will not back the unions and I am confident that I won’t have issues with my job or pay without the union.
    Just think, does your union basically ask you to prioritize your fight for benefits etc each bargaining session? That’s because they’re deciding which benefits to let go.
    I am a teacher. I am against the unions. (They are weak ones at that)

  • Dana

    Wolfgang, I am not sure where you teach, but North Carolina does not have unions!

  • Julie

    Wolfgang–You must not live in New York because if you did, you would know that there ARE strong teachers’ unions here, and you would be singing a different tune. You say teachers’s unions are weak–if they are weak it’s because of weak members. Are YOU an active member of YOUR union? In New York, the Taylor Law prohibits public school teachers and certain other public employees from striking–it’s against the law. So we do our very best to work with our Districts to avoid taking actions that would hurt the students, the community, the district, or the faculty and staff.

    “…horrible progress, defence [defense?] and pay stagnantation [stagnation?]” is what unions protect their members from. During negotiations, unions do ask their members about the current contract and what is very important to have and what’s not so important. The union doesn’t “decide which benefits to let go.” Negotiating is a give and take between the district and the union. Most of the time, neither party gets all they want, but both parties usually get some of what they want.

    If you really believe that you could do as well without unions, you should do some research about labor history. School Districts–like most corporations–don’t “give” their workers a 40 hour week, paid vacation or sick day, health insurance, etc. out of the kindness of their hearts. They provide those benefits because UNIONS made them!

    Next time you get your pay check or take a paid sick day or go to the doctor and use your health care benefits–THANK A UNION!