Wednesday, 01 May 2019 19:00

Richmond County teachers join rally for increase in pay, public school spending

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Richmond County teacher Jennifer Byrd shows off her sign Wednesday during a rally in Raleigh. Richmond County teacher Jennifer Byrd shows off her sign Wednesday during a rally in Raleigh. Contributed photo

RALEIGH — Thousands of teachers and other school personnel from around the state, including a few from Richmond County, marched in the state capital Thursday to advocate several causes including an increase in their pay.

The “Day of Action” was sponsored by the N.C. Association of Educators, which encouraged participants to wear red. Three of the main components of the event included a march, rally and legislative meetings.

There were only about eight teachers from Richmond County, according to Jennifer Byrd.

“I want to help draw public attention to the misinformation out there regarding funding for public education,” said Byrd, who retires this year. “The campaign flyers and commercials are full of skewed data and misleading statistics. The public hears “Teachers got a raise for five years in a row” and don’t understand why we are still complaining. 

“I want the public to know they should pay closer attention to the facts — not the rhetoric,” she continued. “I want our elected leaders to be held accountable for deluding the public and to provide the funding that teachers need to help our children be successful.”

Her sign featured an image of Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson coming out of Sen. Phil Berger’s pocket in a Dos Equis beer parody reading:

“I DON’T ALWAYS LIE TO THE PUBLIC …

BUT WHEN I DO, IT’S ABOUT FUNDING PUBLIC EDUCATION!

STAY IGNORANT, MY FRIENDS …”

The back side resembled a meme featuring the character Joe Dirt being surprised about increased spending for private school vouchers.

The 2019 Legislative Agenda from the NCAE features eight planks:

  • Increase per-pupil funding to the national average within three years
  • Invest in the health and well-being of students and make schools safer
  • Implement a multi-year professional compensation and benefits plan for all educators that is significant and liveable and restore due process
  • Fix crumbling schools and large class sizes with a statewide school construction bond
  • Repeal the raids on public school funding and other privatization efforts
  • Significantly overhaul or end the school grading system in favor of multiple indicators
  • Restore programs to boost N.C.’s teacher pipeline and district flexibility
  • No corporate tax cuts until per-pupil spending and teacher pay reach the national average

The list of demands from Wednesday's rally, as reported by multiple media outlets, included:

  • Provide a $15 minimum wage for school support staff, 5 percent raise for all school employees and a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees;
  • Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standard;
  • Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families;
  • Reinstate state retiree health benefits for teachers who will be hired after 2021; and
  • Restore extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees such as a master’s degree.

“North Carolina Democrats support our educators as they march for the respect that they, their students, and their schools deserve,” state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said in a statement. “For nearly a decade, public education in our state has been underfunded leaving less staff, fewer resources, and low morale — all at the expense of our children.”

Goodwin, a Hamlet native, said Democrats are “committed to treating education like the priority it is,” which is why Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget calls for $40 million for school health professionals and would make the Tar Heel state the highest in teacher pay in the southeast.

“North Carolina Democrats stand with our educators today and every day,” Goodwin said. “While Republican leaders attack, deceive, and try to silence teachers, we look forward to listening to teachers’ concerns and working with them to improve North Carolina’s public education system.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, conservatives chided the organizers for denying thousands of students a day of education for a political rally.

According to the office of Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, only 18 meetings were scheduled with Republican senators.

"Of the thousands of people who will be here, hardly any scheduled meetings with legislators,” he said in a statement earlier in the day. “This is not advocacy. This is not a 'work day.' This is a political rally for Democrats that's keeping nearly one million kids out of school."

The Charlotte Observer reports at least 34 school districts and 10 charter schools cancelled classes because of the rally.

Conservative critics also related the symbolism to communism: use of the raised first in event promotion graphics; wearing red; and the fact is was held on International Workers Day.

While Republicans and Democrats bicker over funding, state Libertarians have their own view of the situation.

“I think that if education was divorced from the control of the state, teachers would feel more fairly compensated, and they would not be taking workdays to publicly protest,” said Susan Hogarth, chair of the state Libertarian Party.

This was the second consecutive year teachers have held such a rally.