- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina public school teachers asked a judge Monday to decide quickly whether state legislators can eliminate job protections that have existed for generations and replace them with employment contracts.

Lawyers for state lawmakers and the objecting teachers argued to Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood that he has enough information to decide without a trial whether the law is constitutional. Hobgood said he may issue a ruling as early as Friday.

For more than 40 years, North Carolina has said veteran teachers cannot be fired or demoted except for a series of listed reasons that include poor performance, immorality and insubordination. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district also have the right to a hearing where they can challenge the reasons offered for their firing or demotion.

Last summer, Republican lawmakers enjoying large, new legislative majorities voted to phase out those protections, arguing it will promote sharper classroom performance.

Now teachers who haven’t worked four years in a school district needed to qualify for career status are being offered one-year contracts. Veteran teachers lose their tenure protections in 2018. The law also directs school districts to pick the best 25 percent of teachers in classrooms next year and offer them four-year contracts with pay raises totaling $5,000 in exchange for giving up tenure rights.

But eliminating career status wasn’t necessary to remove problem teachers, and no school administrators signed statements to Hobgood saying they needed the extra leeway, said Burton Craige, an attorney representing the teachers.

“Eliminating career status also hurts North Carolina public schools because it becomes harder to attract and retain quality teachers,” Craige said.

But the General Assembly established teacher tenure rights and it is constitutional to end that benefit if lawmakers think it will improve public schools - even if it’s unpopular with teachers, said Melissa Trippe, a state attorney defending the law.

“People are looking for changes to this system that has been around for a long time,” she said. “In this instance, the Legislature acted constitutionally correct.”

A Superior Court judge ruled last week that the Guilford County and Durham school boards do not have to issue new teacher contracts to a selected elite 25 percent of educators. The order means other state school boards must still identify teachers for the new contracts and issue those contracts by June 30, according to state law.

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Information from: News & Record, https://www.news-record.com

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