Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Judge's ruling restores career status, for now
RALEIGH The leader of the state Senate promised fast action to appeal a Wake County Superior Court judge's decision halting the General Assembly's plans to end teacher tenure. Meantime, the head of the state's largest teacher association, which brought the lawsuit challenging the end of career status, was delighted with the opinion.
Judge Robert Hobgood on Friday ruled that the law ending tenure, passed last year as a part of the state's budget, amounted to an illegal taking of property and violated the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who spearheaded the law through the General Assembly as a part of the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, scolded Hobgood for the decision.
"Today a single Wake County judge suppressed the will of voters statewide who elected representatives to improve public education and reward our best teachers with raises," Berger said in a statement. "This is a classic case of judicial activism, and we will move quickly to appeal this disappointing decision."
Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, also criticized the ruling.
"He seems to be satisfied with the status quo," Stoops said of Hobgood. "But most North Carolinians are not."
Stoops said it would be interesting to see if another Wake County Superior Court judge, Howard Manning, responded to Hobgood's ruling. Manning, who has handled litigation involving school districts in impoverished counties — often called Leandro
cases, after a 1997 state Supreme Court ruling — has been a longtime advocate for raising teacher quality, which was the intent of the law doing away with teacher tenure, Stoops said.
While supporters of the new law lamented the ruling, the president of the N.C. Association of Educators, which brought the lawsuit, was ecstatic.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the judge's decision," said Rodney Ellis, NCAE president. "To see the judge recognize that it is unconstitutional to try to take away what we viewed as a property right, it's just huge. It's a huge victory for teachers in North Carolina."
Under the law, beginning this year, each school district across the state would replace tenure with an offer of four-year contacts with annual salary increases to the top 25 percent of teachers in the district. Ellis noted that Hobgood's ruling blocks that process from taking hold.
"They can't move forward in the manner that they were planning to move forward," Ellis said.
The effect of the ruling is less clear for recently hired teachers who have not been in the classroom long enough to attain career status, Ellis said. Hobgood is expected to publish his order sometime this week, which should offer more clarity to school officials and lawmakers.
"No one knows yet, because they're going to have to go back to the drawing board and determine what that looks like for new teachers," Ellis said.
Stoops recommended that, in addition to appealing Hobgood's ruling, lawmakers should take a deep breath before passing new legislation as a reaction to the ruling.
"The school year starts in three months," Stoops said. "Implementing something like that is difficult." Lawmakers would do well to consider ways to address the issues of tenure and teacher quality and respond in a more comprehensive manner during next year's session of the General Assembly, Stoops said.