New contract policy sends message of commitment, teachers say
By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Good teachers are invested in the success of their students. A new contract policy may provide a payout on that investment.
Local educators are expressing support for a revised policy expected to be approved by the Pitt County Board of Education that would provide multi-year contracts to eligible teachers — something that has been unattainable since 2013.
If officially approved at the next month’s board meeting, the policy would take effect in July. It will give qualified teachers who have taught in the county for more than three consecutive years a chance to earn two- and four-year contracts.
Many teachers have worked on a year-to-year contract basis since a law enacted by the state General Assembly in December 2013 began the process of eliminating tenure.
Superintendent Ethan Lenker recommended the new policy to the board after fielding input from neighboring counties, teacher organizations and principals. The school board held its first reading of the policy on Monday and likely will vote it into effect at its next meeting.
Compared with other options offered by the North Carolina Department of Instruction — including continuing the one-year contracts and rolling two-year contracts — teachers agree that the proposed policy is the best choice, according to South Central High School Teacher Lauren Piner, who also is on the teacher advisory council.
Piner, who has taught in the county for seven years — all of which were on a one-year basis — also said the new contract sends a message to teachers.
“It’s the most fair,” Piner said. “By giving us the four-year, it shows that the county is invested in us.”
Fellow South Central educator Nicki Griffin has taught with and without long-term protection. With 26 years of teaching experience in the county, she received tenure before it was officially eliminated and said that the best option would be to again offer tenure.
With retirement approaching in a few-years, Griffin does not have to worry about long-term security. Still, she said she teachers like herself got into the field because they felt a strong sense of duty to educating children. When teachers received tenure, she said, it showed a commitment from the county and state.
A lack of a commitment may be an underlying factor behind the high number of attrition rates, particularly among beginning teachers who have less than three years of experience, Griffin said. The state Department of Instruction reports 12.31 percent of beginning teachers employed between March 2016 and March 2017 left their jobs for various reasons. The attrition rate for non-beginning teachers was just 7.6 percent.
“We have a huge problem in North Carolina with teacher turnover and I think we’re going to continue to have that problem when teachers don’t feel respected in the classroom for the achievements that they make on a daily basis,” Griffin said. “I think the turnover problem and lack of commitment that young teachers make in the classroom is a direct reflection of the lack of commitment that the state makes to teachers.”
In Pitt County, the attrition rate for 2016-17 was 10.8 percent, more than 2 percent higher than the statewide average.
Piner, who helps mentor beginning teachers, said the main message she shares is to focus on doing the best they can in your first few years in order to survive. If they can do that, the data shows teachers are much more likely to continue in the profession.
“The first five years or so you’re really kind of getting your feet underneath you and trying to keep your head above water,” Piner said.
Piner said turnover rate was an issue raised in discussions with Lenker. She said he reiterated a desire to keep teachers who meet or exceed expectations. Piner said for teachers immediately eligible for multi-year deals, the added sense of security could go a long way.
“Knowing that every April, I assumed they were going to bring me back, but there’s always that doubt of, ‘Do I need to start job hunting, do I need to start looking at other counties … should I buy a house in this community?” Piner said.
While contract security is obviously a step in the right direction, teacher pay remains an issue that North Carolina and many other states have had to deal with.
In West Virginia, where the average teacher salary in 2016 was, $45,622 according to the National Education Association, teachers successfully striked for a pay raise last week.
North Carolina has shown signs of addressing the issue. For the first time, the Department of Instruction reported that average teacher salaries eclipsed $50,000 (with local supplements included) and increased from the $49,837 last school year to $51,214.
First-year teacher Olivia Bell, who said she intends to spend at least five years teaching in the county, is not quite at that level. First-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree in Pitt County make a $35,000 salary but that number increases year-to-year and with additional certifications and degrees.
Despite some improvement, however, North Carolina ranked 35th in the country for teacher pay in 2017. It is an improvement from its 41st ranking the year before, but educators say there still is work to be done.
“It could definitely be looked at (and) taken a little bit more seriously than it is being taken right now,” Bell said.
In Pitt County, the average teacher’s salary, including local supplements, is $47,721, putting it below the state average. But county school officials said they expect a 3.3 percent increase in the base salary next year.
Teachers in the county also benefit from the $16.2 million Teacher Incentive Fund, which uses federal dollars to help with teacher training and classroom instruction advancements. The 55 facilitating teachers involved in the program are awarded a $7,850 pay supplement, while the 171 collaborating teachers receive $1,200.
As with the supplements for facilitating teachers, the multi-year contracts are awarded based on merit.
The proposed policy says that teachers must be in good standing and proficient on all standards of the teacher evaluation instrument. If they meet that goal — as well as additional criteria regarding behavior and personnel information — their principal could recommend a multi-year deal.
Bell said that whatever happens with the contracts will not change what she does inside the walls of the school.
“They way I want to teach in the classroom is not going to be judged by my contract,” she said. “I’m going to be doing the best thing for my students.”
Contact Brian Wudkwych at email@example.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.