School board gears up for hard teacher choices

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Feb 04, 2014

The Haywood County Board of Education spent an hour of its lengthy work session Monday night hashing through a new state law that could pit teacher against teacher and will force near impossible choices for administrators.

The law requires Haywood County Schools to offer four-year contracts that include annual $500 raises to 25 percent of teachers who have worked three consecutive years in the same school district and have earned a "proficient" job rating. Other tenured teachers will be able to retain their tenured status — for now, but won't receive a pay raise.

There are 408 tenured teachers who can be considered for the pay increase, but only 102 of those teachers will be selected, said Bill Nolte, associate superintendent. There is a total of 661 teachers in the Haywood County Public School system.

"The legislation willed us to pick our top 25 percent and give them a four-year contract, and then four years from now everyone will lose tenure," said Nolte. "We have people who were three years in, who would have gotten tenure, and they no longer can get that."

Tenure means a teacher is promised a job as long as he or she followed the law and met performance standards, Nolte said. Under the new law, tenure will be abolished by 2018, something many in the public education system across the state contend will lead to lawsuits.

The decision of which teachers will receive a raise rests in the hands of an appointed committee, made up of school board member Lynn Milner and various teachers, administrators and principals.

The committee is heavily considering last year’s teacher evaluation scores in the selection of its top teachers. In attempt to get up to speed with the evaluation process, the school board received a thorough presentation from Jason Heinz, the school system's human resources officer, on the rubric for evaluating North Carolina teachers.

Top teachers are going to be evaluated on two standards from the rubric — their demonstration of leadership and the way they facilitate learning in their classrooms.

“When the board determines exactly what they want, we will take the formula and apply it to last year’s scores and that will produce the names,” said Nolte.

Teachers deemed to be in the top 25 percent will have to choose between having tenure, or accepting the $500 bonus, which is budgeted for this year only.

No selection criteria has yet been finalized, Heinz said, but the school board is expected to approve the criteria for the top 25 percent of teachers during its Feb. 10 meeting.

Nolte said the criteria likely would produce ties between the teachers, and that would have to be addressed at some point.

Questions remain

While the decision of choosing the top 25 percent of teachers is looming, the school board still does not favor the change.

“Our problem is we out-performed 85 percent of the other schools in the state, so we feel like we should have more teachers,” Nolte said, referring to the top teachers who will receive a bonus.

Board member Bob Morris said he was against having to choose only a few teachers, adding that there were many great teachers who deserved the raise who would not get one.

“The way it’s being done is the most stressful thing,” Morris said. “People are going to feel like were pitting people against each other.”

One big concern for the board is how people will react when the top 25 percent is finally chosen. As a means to soften the blow, board member Jim Harley Francis suggested passing a resolution stating that the board doesn’t agree with the change.

“It’s insulting to think you're going to work harder to teach a child because you're going to get more money,” Jim Harley Francis said. “But that doesn’t mean that the teachers don't deserve money.”

“If you’ve got a teacher who constantly gets out there and teaches — pay them,” Morris added. “That’s the problem that I have with only paying 25 percent. I want every teacher to get paid, that’s the problem.”