Carrot-stick tactic an insult

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 1, 2014

We’ve entered the most difficult time of the school year for teachers — the time when lawmakers bat around ideas about how to pay them for educating our children.
Spring fever and end-of-grade testing don’t help.
The Republicans in control of the state Senate are determined not to give teachers much-deserved raises unless lawmakers can get something in return. Thus teachers now face the prospect of receiving a very attractive $5,000 to $6,000 annual raise, but only if they give up tenure.
Maybe it is time to phase out “career status,” as tenure is officially called. People don’t stay with jobs and employers as loyally as they used to — and vice versa. The idea of sticking with one job until retirement is as up-to-date as dial phones and dictation.
But dangling out a raise like a carrot on a stick to get teachers to surrender job protection is cynical and manipulative. Either they’ve earned the raise or they haven’t. They certainly don’t deserve to be among the lowest-paid teachers in the nation. And what about other state employees? Is it fair to lure teachers with a fat carrot while other employees get only the stick?
There are still strong arguments to be made for career status. Without it, the teaching profession would be particularly vulnerable to rash and unfair firing practices. Dealing with children and their parents can at times lead to high emotions, unrealistic demands and even political pressure. Teachers deserve some job protection. And that’s all tenure is, some protection. Career status is not the job guarantee some people believe it to be. Tenure simply assures a teacher due process before a dismissal. A principal can’t let a teacher go in order to give a relative a job; a school board member unhappy over her child’s grades can’t have the teacher dismissed. The teacher has a right to due process.
Sen. Phil Berger and company don’t mind taking the role of antagonist when it comes to public education. Teachers who refuse to play victim take control of their destinies by moving to other states or switching careers. That’s North Carolina’s loss. The truly great teachers ignore the politics of the day and focus on what’s most important — making sure their students get the best education possible — and do the best they can with dwindling resources. The Senate, by the way, is also talking about another dramatic reduction in the number of teacher assistants.
As employers, General Assembly leaders have the same attitude as a lot of businesses. Workers are supposed to be grateful to have jobs and not make waves, even as they watch resources dwindle and profits (or tax breaks) grow. Something is out of kilter.
Berger is said to be personally genial and ever the gentleman. But his actions on the issues of teacher pay and tenure send a grim message: do this or else. Berger and his colleagues are undermining essential and time-honored North Carolina values — respect for teachers and support for public education. Treating hard-earned paychecks like bargaining chips is an insult to everyone who shares those values.