Senate leader Berger again seeks end of North Carolina teacher tenure laws

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:45 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — The leader of the North Carolina Senate revived a proposal Tuesday to end job-protecting tenure rules for veteran school teachers and to move forward a pay proposal that seeks to reward the best-performing classroom instructors.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, tried in 2012 to eliminate the career status that teachers can receive after four years in the same district, which makes it very difficult to remove poorly performing teachers. The House wouldn’t go along with the legislation on such short notice and also declined at the time to give merit-based raises for teachers.

Other provisions in his 2012 “Excellent Schools Act” became law, including those designed to improve reading by students in early grades and a new A-to-F grading scale for schools. Now with his second crack at a new “Excellent Schools Act,” Berger said he believes items left on the table in 2012 can get approved this year, particularly on teacher tenure.

“This is a different General Assembly and the problem still exists,” Berger said at a news conference to discuss the bill. “We’ve known for years that the one thing that does the most for improving student performance is to have a high-quality teacher in the classroom.”

Under the proposal filed Tuesday, certain job protections for veteran public school teachers would end in the fall 2014 school year. First, local school boards by the end of 2013 can offer four-year contracts to teachers with at least three years’ experience. For the next school year, veteran teachers would be offered salaries from one to four years. Teachers with less than three years’ experience in one district would still be limited to one-year deals. Local boards also could decline to renew contracts.

The proposal, Berger said, would increase accountability among teachers and provide an incentive to perform well.

“Our current system in many respects rewards mediocrity (and) punishes excellence by granting unlimited job security to all who teach a few years,” he said. Berger also envisions performance pay will reward the best teachers based on what the bill calls a “robust” evaluation process that has yet to be finalized.

Progress, Duke officials questioned on rate hike

RALEIGH (AP) — Critics of a rate increase for Progress Energy customers are questioning deals that would give the utility’s largest customers breaks on the costs.

The questions came Monday before the North Carolina Utilities Commission in Raleigh, which is considering a 7.3 percent rate increase for the company’s residential customers. That would be nearly $8 per month for the typical residential customer.

Progress promised its industrial customers millions of dollars in price breaks in exchange for their support of its $32 billion merger with Duke Energy.

Duke and Progress considered the deals trade secrets that would have been kept from the public. But the commission opened its files last year following a request from the news media and a Durham advocacy group NC WARN.

Lawyers for commercial businesses, the U.S. Defense Department, the North Carolina League of Municipalities and the North Carolina Public Staff challenged Duke and Progress officials about the price breaks for nearly 4,000 industrial customers. Other Progress customers would make up the difference for the reduced rates for industry.

“Do you gentlemen think it’s fair for the Food Lion to subsidize a rate discount to the bakery across the street?” asked Alan Jenkins, an attorney for Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and others who would not get the break. “Do you care more about the bakery across the street than the bakery within the Food Lion?”

Two of Duke’s top executives, Lloyd Yates, executive vice president for regulated utilities, and Paul Newton, president of Duke Energy North Carolina, defended the breaks for big customers.

NC lawmakers want to stop cities’ new-home rules

RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers have given initial approval to legislation which attempts to rein in ordinances used by local governments worried about new homes sticking out like sore thumbs.

The House gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill backed by home industry groups that limits the power to place appearance and design standards upon one- and two-family homes.

Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary says local governments have gone too far with some rules. The bill doesn’t prevent homeowner associations, covenants or historic districts from enforcing aesthetic controls.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities opposes the bill. Its allies argue local governments have the right to keep the character of established communities intact by regulating new construction.

The measure approved 94-22 will go to Senate after one more House vote this week.

Study ranks Wake as NC’s healthiest county

RALEIGH (AP) — A new study ranks Wake County as the healthiest in North Carolina.

The University of Wisconsin released the rankings, which show the county has a relatively low smoking rate of 14 percent, compared to 21 percent for the state. It also cites the number of primary physicians and dentists available in the county.

The study released Wednesday says 12 percent of Wake County residents are in poor or fair health, compared to 18 percent statewide.

Columbus County ranked as the unhealthiest county, with 37 percent of children living in poverty, compared to 25 percent statewide. The study says 28 percent of its residents are in poor or fair health.

Most of the unhealthiest counties are in southeastern or northeastern North Carolina. The healthiest counties tend to be clustered around cities.

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