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Charter school educators face leave problem

Charter schools have a problem. 

If the charter schools of North Carolina and their advocates do not partner together with entities such as the Department of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education, and the General Assembly, our state may begin to see an untimely decline in quality teacher leadership in the charter school realm.

Let me back up and paint a picture for you.

Two years ago, a colleague of mine left our independent charter school to return to the traditional public schools where he had taught before coming to our charter. Overall, this teacher had more than 10 years of accrued sick days and leave days (more on these days later), the equivalent of more than 70 days in his account. Then he moved back to the traditional schools and lost all of his days.

For those not in the public school setting, allow me to “briefly” sum up the labels of days that teachers use. There are three specific types of days that teachers are given in their accounts to use throughout their tenure:

  • Annual Leave
  1. You may only use Annual Leave days when students are not scheduled to be in your classroom. Year-round school instructional personnel are exempt from this with proper approval.
  • Sick Leave
  1. You earn one sick day per month.
  2. You may only use sick days in half-day or whole-day increments. Example: if I need to leave to go to a doctor’s appointment at 3pm, only requiring me to miss my last hour of school (one class period), then I must take a half day of leave as if I missed three and a half hours of the day.
  • Personal Leave
  1. After reaching five personal days in your account, those days are converted to Sick Leave.
  2. You may only use personal days in half-day or whole-day increments. See “Sick Leave” section, part B above.

Here is what you need to know for each of these days in relation to our discussion:

  • Annual Leave
    • Only 30 days of Annual Leave will remain in my account. If I have excess, these days are converted to sick days, and contribute toward my retirement.
  • Sick Leave
    • Accumulated sick leave counts toward a teacher’s retirement. This ultimately allows a teacher the ability to retire early, should he so desire. Example: If at age 64, I have enough sick days to count for a whole school year, I can retire at age 64, rather than working until age 65.
  • Personal Leave
    • When you retire, any personal days convert to sick days, contributing toward my retirement days.

Returning to my colleague from above who has served as an educator for more than 10 years; this educator is now back at zero days to his name. It is as if he never worked a day in the classroom. And this is where the slippery slope of losing quality teachers in the charter school system begins.

Charter schools are fighting for their namesake. As a part of that discussion, many (though, not all) are fighting for highly qualified and licensed professionals to be in their classrooms. My school is one of these types of charters. Learning, however, that I run the risk of losing all of my days, unless I work for this charter for the remainder of my career, is not very promising for me, nor for charter schools. For each year I remain, I am offering up my earned days as a sacrifice toward my retirement.

Here is an analogy for you:

Gap, Inc. is a large company that owns several brands to its name: Gap, Old Navy, Athleta, and Banana Republic. Imagine you are the store manager of Gap and you are told that a part of your benefits package includes contributions to your 401K that the company has set up for you. Eventually, for one reason or another, you move from Gap to Banana Republic, also as a store manager. The same 401K you had at Gap comes with you to Banana Republic and the same contributions are provided to you.

In the world of North Carolina educators, the institution of the public schools is Gap, Inc. while the traditional public schools is Gap and the charters are Banana Republic. Charter schools are public schools. One of the choices charter schools can make is if they will contribute into the state retirement system that all traditional schools participate in. Not every charter agrees to participate which leaves them out of this discussion. But there is a percentage of charter schools who do participate in the system like their traditional counterparts. And yet, we are being denied our rights to our days that we lawfully earned and are not being allowed to use toward our retirement, unless we remain at that one charter for the rest of our career. Can you imagine walking into an office and having to decide at age 28 that you will remain with that specific company until your 60’s?

This lack of provision comes from two specific sections in the NCDPI Policy Handbook for Public School employees, which reads:

  1. Transfer of Annual Leave, 3.1.6(d): There is no provision for public school employees to transfer leave to or from charter schools.
  2. Transfer of Sick Leave, 4.1.9(a): There is no provision for public school employees to transfer leave to or from charter schools.

For nine months, I have been reaching out to members at NCDPI, the State Board of Education, the General Assembly, and other legal representatives to pinpoint whether this issue could be resolved swiftly by a quick handbook change by DPI/SBE, or if the longer route of creating a bill from the General Assembly is most appropriate. No one seems to know the answer. To me, this is unacceptable.

I know that charter schools have received criticism for not following all the same rules the traditional schools do. The distinction is a discussion for another post. But let us be clear: not allowing me to use my hard-earned days in the same manner that my traditional counterparts can, even though we are all contributing in the same way to the same system, is outrageous.

So what can we do?

I suggest a calling upon every entity that has the power in their grasp to help resolve this issue.

State Board of Education: This is a part of the handbook for public school employees issued by NCDPI and the SBE. I received a copy when I become a charter school teacher. Would it be so difficult to simply remove the statutes that say “no provisions given”? Is there some larger purpose that this serves to penalize the educators in these classroom?

General Assembly, particularly those in favor of “school choice”: If you value the ability to have school choice, not only for parents and students, but also for teachers, then push hard for fairness and equity. It is already bad enough that we allow charters to not pay their teachers commensurate salaries to their traditional counterparts. Many, if not most, charter schools pay less than the county in which they reside. Why not make this a gesture toward showing how much you respect the profession of teaching?

NCAE, NC Charter Alliance, and other advocate entities: Now is not the time to sit back on this issue. This issue is so vast and great, and yet so small compared to the other battles you each face and chose to fight. Why not pick a small battle where you could help ensure victory?

Douglas Price

Douglas Price is the Director of Programs for WakeEd Partnership, an independent nonprofit organization composed of business and community leaders committed to improving public education in Wake County. Douglas was the 2019 North Carolina Burroughs Wellcome Fund Charter School Teacher of the Year and is an educator of 12 years. Previously he served as a Hope Street Group Fellow: Teacher Advisory Council, EdAmbassador with EdNC, and participated in several key fellowships throughout NC, including Hope Street Group: Teacher Voice Network, the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, the Education Policy Fellowship Program (NC Public Forum), and the NC Collaborative (Duke Research Clinical Institute). He is a current Doctoral candidate at UNC-Greensboro in Educational Leadership.