Next summer one in four N.C. public-school teachers will be asked to sign away their traditional tenure in exchange for a four-year contract that includes a $500-a-year raise.
But state education officials are still trying to figure out how the transition will work. Among the questions: How will superintendents identify the top 25 percent in their districts?
"It gets a bit confusing, even if you're deep into this stuff," said N.C. Department of Public Instruction spokeswoman Vanessa Jeter. She put me in touch with Tom Tomberlin, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrator who's now the state's human resources liaison with school districts.
Can they refuse? Tomberlin says probably so, since the legislation says it's a voluntary change. But there wouldn't be much point, he said, since everyone's career status goes away in 2018, when the four-year contract would end.
To be eligible for the top 25 percent, a teacher must have been employed by the district for three consecutive years. A quirk in the language of the budget bill (the section on teacher contracts starts on page 97) makes it unclear whether legislators expect value-added ratings based on student test scores to be used for determining the top 25 percent, Tomberlin said. The superintendent is responsible for identifying the top teachers, but the school board can modify that list, as long as teachers offered a four-year contract and raise have "shown effectiveness as demonstrated by proficiency on the teacher evaluation instrument."
I wondered what happens in coming years: Will additional teachers be eligible for the four-year contracts and bonuses based on evaluations in 2015 and beyond? Tomberlin said that's not clear. The state Board of Education and DPI will be working on details of this plan, with guidance from legislators.
Meanwhile, teachers who don't already have career status will be hired on one-year contracts. In 2018, all career status ends. Teachers will be offered one-, two- or four-year contracts. Only those with at least three years' experience and proficient job ratings will be eligible for more than one year.
Jonathan Sink, the CMS legislative liaison, adds that if the district doesn't want to renew a teacher's contract, the teacher may petition the school board for a hearing "but the local board does not have to hear the matter."
"The decision to fire a teacher during the term of his or her contract must be for one of 15 'just cause' reasons, which are identical to the 15 just cause bases that public school employees have always known," Sink adds. Read Sink's recap of all education-related legislation here.
Update: Gov. Pat McCrory's proposal to reward 1,000 top teachers with $10,000 stipends gives a new twist to the performance-pay discussion. The state has more than 97,000 teachers, so you're talking roughly 1 percent. One CMS teacher on Facebook has already dubbed the plan "Hunger Games: NC Teacher Edition."