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Teachers demand better funding


By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Years of cuts to public education are taking a toll on the state’s schools and requests for more funding are being ignored, a group of educators said on Wednesday afternoon.

Members of the N.C. Association of Educators, the Pitt County Association of Educators and Progress N.C. held a news conference at South Central High School as part of the “Education Truth Tour” to discuss state education funding.

“I’m proud to stand here today … to reveal the truth about what is happening in North Carolina as a direct result of years of continued cuts to public education at the hands of leaders at the North Carolina General Assembly,” said Mark Jewell, president of the association of educators.

“The truth is ugly and unsettling and completely at odds with the statements of law makers who claim to care about our children,” Jewell said. “Talk is cheap, but the North Carolina General Assembly is cheaper, at least when it comes to funding our schools.”

The association of educators was one of the organizations responsible for the May 1 Rally for Respect that closed school districts across the east, including Pitt County Schools. The association asked for five things: increased funding for student services to meet national standards, including money for counselors, social workers and librarians; a $15 minimum wage for classified staff, such as bus drivers and child nutrition workers; expanded Medicaid access; reinstated state retiree benefits; and compensation for advanced degrees.

The General Assembly has ignored these requests, Jewell said.

“We were clear, and we were loud and we were ignored,” he said.

The state Senate’s budget provides 1 percent of the funding necessary to meet national standards for student services staff, the association said. It also gives classified employees a 1 percent raise while the House budget gives them a 0.5 percent raise.

The House budget restores increased compensation for master’s degrees but neither budget restores retirement benefits for teachers who are hired after 2020, according to the association.

“These budget proposals fail to even scratch the surface of the needs of public education in our state,” Jewell said. “The House and the Senate budgets give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to big corporations and wealthy on top of a $3.6 billion that the lawmakers have already handed out since 2013. … If we’re serious about educating the next generation of North Carolinians, we need to invest in education right here before the costs become even steeper and the costs become even more dire.”

Funding for support staff, such as counselors and school psychologists is incredibly important, according to Danisha Williams, treasurer of the Pitt County Association of Educators and a kindergarten teacher at Creekside Elementary School.

“In North Carolina, school counselors should be funded at 1 to 250 students, yet they are currently funded at a rate of 1 to 450,” she said. “School psychologists should be funded at 1 to 750 students, yet they are currently funded at 1 to 2,100. There are several local education associations in the northeast district of North Carolina without a single psychologist.

“This is unacceptable,” Williams said. “The blame for these shortcomings does not lie with the local education associations and school boards. It lies with members of the General Assembly who have continued to pass unfunded mandates that pass the financial burden onto county budgets and local systems of government.”

During her more than 16 years teaching in Pitt County Schools, Williams has seen the loss of master’s pay and longevity pay for teachers. She also has seen the end of the Teaching Fellows program, which provided college students with tuition assistance in exchange for teaching in public schools.

“This is about so much more than teacher pay, principal pay or pay for our classified staff,” she said. “This is about making sure our students have the resources they need to be competitive in our global economy.

“Enrollment in teacher preparation programs continues to drop around the state and I fear that the teacher shortage we are facing now will be but a drop in the storm that is closing in on us,” Williams said.

North Carolina’s educational funding has fallen from 42nd in the nation during the 2008-09 school year to 48th in the nation during the 2018-19 school year, according to Kris Nordstrom of the N.C. Justice Center. The state also has 800 fewer teachers, 700 fewer support staff and the equivalency of 8,400 fewer teaching assistants, he said.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “We want all children in North Carolina to flourish — not just the children of the wealthy — and we must prioritize our schools.”

Pitt County Association of Educators Vice President Elyse McRae, a social studies teacher at South Central High School, said the association is fighting for an increase in teaching supplements in Pitt County. Beginning teachers now receive a 3 percent supplement and proficient teachers receive a 5.25 percent supplement. The board of education has asked the Pitt County board of Commissioners to increase the supplement to 7 percent. The commissioners rejected the proposal; however, the budget did not pass at the board’s June 4 meeting.

“There will be another meeting June 17 concerning the county commissioners and raising the supplement for Pitt County’s educators,” McRae said. “Currently, the surrounding counties have a higher supplement than Pitt County does. It doesn’t take much for teachers to fill up their cars and drive across the county line.”