N.C. Appeals Court Tosses Teachers’ Benefits Law

     (CN) – A North Carolina law repealing career status teachers’ benefits is unconstitutional, the state appeals court ruled.
     North Carolina enacted the Career Status Law in 1971 to guarantee the terms of employment of public school teachers. The law also included the reasons a teacher could be fired.
     After a teacher had spent four consecutive years in a school district, the board of education could vote to give that teacher career status.
     These teachers would not be “subjected to the requirement of annual appointment” and could only be removed for one of 15 specific reasons, including “inadequate performance.”
     In these cases, teachers would be entitled to notice, explanations of the complaints against them, and hearings with the right to be represented by counsel.
     However, in 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the Career Status Law. This action removed career status for teachers who had achieved it.
     The North Carolina Association of Educators and six individual teachers sued the state to challenge the constitutionality of the repeal. They alleged that the repeal amounted to a property being taken from them without compensation.
     The teachers also argued that career status helped to attract and retain teachers despite relatively low salaries. U.S. Rep. Richard Glazier and labor economist Jesse Rothstein lent their support to the teachers’ cause.
     The state countered that the repeal would improve the quality of North Carolina’s education system by making it easier to remove ineffective teachers.
     The trial court agreed with the teachers that the repeal was unconstitutional.
     “Eliminating career status hurts North Carolina public schools by making it harder for school districts to attract and retain quality teachers,” the trial court stated, adding that the dismissal of ineffective teachers could be accomplished by “less drastic means.”
     The state appealed the ruling, but the North Carolina Court of Appeals on June 2 upheld the trial court’s decision in an opinion written by Judge Linda Stephens.
     “We find highly persuasive the affidavit Plaintiffs submitted from labor economist Rothstein, who observes that ‘there is a useful parallel between job security that derives from a career status award and the economic value of retirement benefits,'” Stephens wrote.
     The judge added that career status protections “have been a fundamental part of the bargain that Plaintiffs and thousands of other teachers across this State accepted when they decided to defer the pursuit of potentially more lucrative professions, as well as the opportunity to work in states that offer better financial compensation to members of their own profession, in order to accept employment in our public schools.”
     Judge Martha A. Geer agreed with this opinion, but Judge Chris Dillon partially dissented with his two colleagues.
     “My vote would be to uphold the Career Status Repeal except for that portion of (the law) that provides a local school board the discretion whether to hold a hearing before depriving a career teacher of his or her property interest in continued employment,” Dillon wrote. “In my view, local school boards must provide pre-deprivation hearings for career teachers.”

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