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North Carolina Legislature Will Debate Bill To Abolish Tenure for Principals

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A proposal to abolish tenure protection for North Carolina's public-school principals will go to the state's General Assembly without the endorsement of the state board of education, which voted this month not to support the plan.

Controversy has surrounded the issue of tenure protection for North Carolina's principals since 1971, when lawmakers placed them under the state's tenure law, the Fair Employment and Dismissal Act, according to Robert D. Boyd, assistant state superintendent of schools for personnel services.

Under the law, public-school principals automatically qualify for tenure after three years in one school system. After that time, they may only be dismissed with cause.

The tenure law provides 14 reasons--ranging from physical or mental incapacity to incompetence and insubordination--for which a tenured employee may be dismissed or demoted.

The North Carolina School Boards Association, which advocates hiring principals on a contractual basis, has led the fight to eliminate the tenure protection. State Superintendent of Public Instruction A. Craig Phillips also favors contracts for principals instead of tenure, Mr. Boyd said.

"We would have had to go to the General Assembly for changes in the [tenure] law anyway," said Jan G. Holem, spokesman for the ncsba, concerning the board's decision to withhold support for the proposed change in the tenure law. "The only difference now is that we don't have the board's endorsement."

No Clear Pattern

According to October 1983 statistics from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, 17 states offer principals some kind of tenure protection. Another twenty states grant principals tenure as teachers, which protects their employment with the district but not in principalships.

While there have been a number of recent changes in tenure policy for principals among the states, "there is no particular direction to these changes," said Ivan B. Gluckman, director of legal and legislative services for nassp Some states, like North Carolina, are considering taking tenure away from principals, while others are moving to grant them some kind of protection, Mr. Gluckman said.

Robert M. McClure, associate director of instruction and professional development for the National Education Association, said he was "bowled over" to learn that so many states grant tenure to principals.

The purpose of tenure, Mr. McClure said, is to provide teachers with academic freedom so that they do not become victims of local "biases and prejudices that might impinge on their handling subject matter properly." Under this definition, there is no need for principals to have tenure protection, said Mr. McClure, who favors hiring principals on a contractual basis, with grounds for dismissal and due process formally defined.

Job Security

In North Carolina, proponents of the tenure law say it gives principals necessary job security and prevents arbitrary firings.

"Before [the law], principals were being dismissed for political reasons," said Andy Reese, spokesman for the principals' division of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "They were dismissed not because of lack of doing something that was required, but because they had gotten on somebody's list."

Mr. Reese argued that giving principals tenure brings stability to a school system. "In this state, superintendents change positions every five or six years," he said. "If you let them bring in their own people, they will destroy a district's stability."

Accountability

But opponents of the law say that it is tilted in favor of the employee and that it undermines accountability.

Ms. Holem also contended that tenure laws keep public education from being market-sensitive. School systems are often stuck with "mediocre" principals even when an excellent potential employee is available, she said.

Others who favor dropping the tenure provision also noted that it is not easy to dismiss a tenured employee because the required documentation is so detailed and the prescribed procedure is cumbersome.

But Mr. Reese argued that school boards have ample recourse against incompetent employees because they can fire for a number of causes.

According to Mr. Gluckman of the nassp, if a district wants to dismiss a tenured employee, it must be willing to bring specific charges against the individual and be able to "prove without a doubt that the employee has not met statutory standards."

Contract Advocated

The state school-boards group advocates hiring principals on a contractual basis the way school superintendents and assistant superintendents are hired. It will draft legislation requiring principals who participate in the state's proposed administrative career ladder "to go on contract and lose their tenure," Ms. Holem said.

The administrative career ladder, which the state board has presented to the legislature for final approval and financing, requires new principals to participate but permits incumbent principals to choose not to.

Under the school boards' proposal, the incumbent principals who do not opt to participate would retain their tenure status, Ms. Holem said.

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