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North Carolina Sued for Killing Tenure System

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) - Public schoolteachers sued North Carolina, claiming the state unconstitutionally impaired contracts by killing the long-established tenure system, which the state refers to as "career status."

The North Carolina Association of Educators and six teachers sued North Carolina in Wake County Superior Court.

North Carolina statutorily established teacher tenure, or "career status," in 1971.

Career status provides a teacher "two basic employment protections: (a) the assurance that she [sic] could be dismissed, demoted, or relegated to part-time status only for one of the statutorily enumerated causes, and (b) the right to a hearing in which she could contest the grounds offered by a school board employer to dismiss, demote, or relegate her to part-time status," according to the lawsuit.

A teacher can get career status after four consecutive years of employment in the public school system, if approved by a majority vote of the school board.

The plaintiffs acknowledge that moderate changes have been made to the system since its inception, but they claim that this year's Appropriations Act - passed by the General Assembly in July and made effective Aug. 1 - made sweeping and unconstitutional changes by all but eliminating career status.

"Sections 9.6 and 9.7 of the Appropriations Act, which together comprise the Career Status Repeal, fundamentally alter the system of employment established by the Career Status Law and its predecessor statutes," the lawsuit states.

"(T)he legislation provides that all teachers who have not achieved career status before the beginning of the 2013-14 school year will never be granted career status, but will instead be employed on one-year contracts until 2018;" and, "as of July 1, 2018, the Career Status Repeal revokes the career status of all teachers who had previously earned that status under the Career Status Law. After July 21, 2018, all teachers will be employed on one-, two-, or four-year contracts that can be nonrenewed at the discretion of the school board without any right to a hearing."

In addition: "the Career Status Repeal provides that local boards of education shall, before the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, select 25 percent of the teachers within their district and offer those teachers four-year contracts. Any teacher who accepts such a contract is entitled to receive a temporary $500 raise in each year of the contract, but immediately loses the protections of the Career Status Law and is deemed to have 'voluntarily relinquish[ed] career status.'" (Brackets in complaint.)

The teachers union claims its members also must forfeit the right to have a hearing if their contracts are not renewed, and instead "will be permitted to request a hearing ... but the board will have unfettered discretion to decide whether or not to hold such a hearing."

The teachers claim the repeal of career status violates the state and federal Constitutions: that is a "taking [of] property without just compensation" and unconstitutionally impairs the teachers' employment contracts.

They seek a permanent injunction.

The individual plaintiffs are Richard J. Nixon, Rhonda Holmes, Brian Link, Annette Beatty, Stephanie Wallace and John deVille.

They are represented by Burton Craige with Patterson Harkavy, of Raleigh.

Historically, tenure was instituted for K-12 teachers because they were wretchedly paid in the first century and more of the United States' de facto systems of public education.

Also, most schoolteachers were single women; many school districts prohibited married women from teaching.

Public teachers' pay did not improve until mandatory attendance was instituted through high school, and men began entering the profession.

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