County schools grappling with new teacher tenure law

Lauren Williams Staff Writer

December 18, 2013

Interim superintendent Mike Warren updated Sampson County Board of Education members Tuesday morning on the legislature’s decision to end teacher tenure and shared how he and a special task force are working to figure out the best way to carry out the new law which requires that only a select percentage of teachers be awarded four-year contracts.

“Last Thursday I met with the task force,” said Warren, noting that the group created to wade through the new law is comprised of two teachers from each county school for a total of 38 teachers plus a few school board members and central office staff. “We’ve tried to bring in every thought.”

Signed into law by the governor this past July, it is Senate Bill 402, specifically section 9.6, that is presenting the task force with a challenge. During a work session back in October, Warren explained that the new law, which was “effective immediately,” ruled that teachers who have not yet earned tenure — also known as career status — before this current 2013-14 school year will not receive tenure now and many will be offered only one-year contracts.

However, he added, according to the law, some teachers — including instructional staff such as media coordinators, counselors, speech pathologists, social workers, and instructional coaches — who meet certain requirements will be eligible to receive four-year contracts through the 2018-19 school year.

Those requirements, listed in sub-section (g) of section 9.6, include having taught in the same, current school system for at least three consecutive school years, and after undergoing performance reviews and evaluations by their principals and then the superintendent, having been deemed proficient or better in five areas.

Once the pool of eligible teachers is determined, the law states that the superintendent will recommend 25 percent of those in the pool to the school board who will then approve the awarding of four-year contracts.

Structuring a process to narrow down the pool of teachers eligible for the four-year contracts and then determining the 25 percent of those will be offered contracts is what Warren and the task force are now grappling with.

“In the end, it’s the school board that offers it (the contracts),” Warren previously noted. “But the General Assembly offered no direction in how to select the 25 percent” of those eligible teachers.

“We’re looking for the most objective process that we can find to choose the 25 percent,” he also stressed back in October, adding that he hoped a selection process could be recommended to the school board during its Nov. 25 board meeting.

However, that recommended process did not come, and Warren explained to the school board members Tuesday morning why the delay.

Acknowledging that when work on the process began it was thought best to get the work done and to get it done quickly, Warren said that he and the task force had since decided otherwise, “proposing to slow down the process.”

He cited that there might be “a tiny hope” that when the General Assembly meets on May 14 next year to begin its short session that “we could get some changes in legislation.”

Warren added that he, board members, and central office staff had been regularly attending numerous meetings where teacher tenure had been discussed and that “we’re hearing lots of new ideas.”

“We want to make sure we’ve included every possibility,” he said, adding that the selection process could always be tweaked if new, better ideas came along later.

Lastly, the extended time will allow more teachers the opportunity to qualify for eligibility for the four-year contracts. For those who are determined not eligible, postponing the disappointing news and the related emotions until near the end of the school year will help, he noted, to ensure that the spring semester goes as smoothly as possible.

“For a small school systems like us, it’s going to be problematic,” said school board chairman Telfair Simpson previously, acknowledging the unpleasantness of the task before school officials and the school board. “Some feelings are going to get hurt.”

“We all know that this is going to cause some hard feelings,” echoed Warren on Tuesday.

Now Warren hopes that the process for selection can be presented to the school board for approval in January and that by May he will have the list of selected teachers — some 110 out of the 600 certified staff members — ready for school board members to consider and vote on.

Selected teachers will have until June 30 to accept or decline the offer. If a teacher chooses to accept, he or she will have to give up tenure which, by 2018, will be completely eliminated with previously tenured teachers losing their tenured status and all teachers being employed through renewable one, two, or four-year contracts. Teachers who accept will, in addition to their salaries, receive a $500 pay raise every year of their contract, which will total $5,000 over four years.

“It sounds very logical to me,” said Simpson of the interim superintendent’s proposed timeline. “When they pass a law, we have no choice.”

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at