N. Carolina teach­ers stag­ing ral­lies to protest low pay

15,000 ex­pected in Raleigh

Albuquerque Journal - - WORLD & NATION - BY EMERY P. DALE­SIO AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

RALEIGH, N.C. — The re­cent wave of teacher ac­tivism sweep­ing through con­ser­va­tive, tax-cut­ting states has washed into North Carolina, where ed­u­ca­tors have pledged to fill the streets and bring their de­mands for bet­ter pay and school re­sources to leg­is­la­tors’ doorstep.

About 15,000 teach­ers are ex­pected in Raleigh on Wed­nes­day, when the Re­pub­li­can-dom­i­nated state leg­is­la­ture be­gins its an­nual ses­sion.

More than three dozen school dis­tricts — from the 10 largest to nu­mer­ous smaller dis­tricts in ru­ral ar­eas — that to­gether ed­u­cate more than two-thirds of the state’s 1.5 mil­lion pub­lic school stu­dents have de­cided to close class­rooms that day as a re­sult.

Strikes, walk­outs and protest ral­lies have swept through West Vir­ginia, Ari­zona, Ken­tucky, Colorado and Ok­la­homa since Fe­bru­ary. The re­sult­ing pres­sure led leg­is­la­tors in each state to im­prove pay, ben­e­fits or over­all school fund­ing.

North Carolina teach­ers earn an av­er­age salary of about $50,000, rank­ing them 39th in the coun­try last year, the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion re­ported last month. Their pay in­creased by 4.2 per­cent over the pre­vi­ous year — the se­cond-big­gest in­crease in the coun­try — and was es­ti­mated to rise an av­er­age 1.8 per­cent this year, the NEA said. But the union points out that that still rep­re­sents a 9.4 per­cent slide in real in­come since 2009 due to in­fla­tion.

“It’s just my time to stand up for some­thing,” said Jill Pa­trick, an ele­men­tary school art teacher who plans to at­tend the demon­stra­tion. “I stand for bet­ter re­sources for chil­dren, which is a big part of why we teach. We love chil­dren and feel that’s what we’re called to do. I think we’re just look­ing for more help.”

While low pay makes teach­ing a strug­gle, just as frus­trat­ing is that teach­ers spend hun­dreds of dol­lars a year out of their own pock­ets to keep class­rooms on track, said Pa­trick, who’s been teach­ing for four years. Add to that the chal­lenges of try­ing to fo­cus mis­be­hav­ing chil­dren and ad­just­ing to con­stantly shift­ing de­mands and it adds up to what feels like un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated work, she said.

“Some teach­ers just feel that the time has come. It’s been past time, but now is an op­por­tu­nity to say we’re go­ing to stand with other teach­ers in other states,” said Pa­trick, who teaches in Cum­ber­land County, home to the Army’s largest base at Fort Bragg.

Lee Irvin of Cary said he’s sym­pa­thetic to the teach­ers’ de­mands, if not their method, which is forc­ing the soft­ware en­gi­neer and his wife to work from home on Wed­nes­day. That’s be­cause his four boys at­tend the state’s largest school district in and around Raleigh, which has can­celed classes for a day.

“I sup­port their cause. I’d give them money to protest. But not dur­ing school hours. Don’t can­cel a day of school,” Irvin said. “How am I go­ing to re­spect teach­ers who shut down the school for a day?”

Irvin said he thinks his chil­dren are re­ceiv­ing a lack­lus­ter ed­u­ca­tion. Be­sides aged com­puter equip­ment at school, none of them have brought home a text­book all year, with teach­ers in­stead hand­ing out work­sheets to glue into their note­books. Par­ents like him also are given lists of class­room sup­plies they’re ex­pected to buy, which Irvin con­sid­ers a hid­den tax.

Those com­plaints high­light why teach­ers will be demon­strat­ing, the head of North Carolina’s largest teacher ad­vo­cacy group said. Teach­ers are pho­to­copy­ing as­sign­ments off the in­ter­net or from old work­books be­cause text­books haven’t been re­plen­ished in years, North Carolina As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors Pres­i­dent Mark Jewell said.

The group de­mands that leg­is­la­tors in­crease per-pupil spend­ing to the na­tional av­er­age, in­crease school con­struc­tion for a grow­ing state, and ap­prove a mul­ti­year pay raise for teach­ers and school sup­port staff that raises in­comes to the na­tional av­er­age.

Since they be­gan cut­ting taxes in 2013, law­mak­ers have slashed the cor­po­rate in­come-tax rate to one of the low­est in the coun­try and now col­lect about a half-bil­lion dol­lars less an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the leg­is­la­ture’s fis­cal staff. The leg­is­la­ture also phased out the state’s es­tate tax. Sales taxes that reach more peo­ple now make up a big­ger share of the state bud­get. Cor­po­rate and per­sonal in­come-tax rates will drop again in Jan­uary.

SUE OGROCKI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A crowd lis­tens to speak­ers on a stage, lower right, dur­ing a teacher rally to protest low stu­dent fund­ing at the state Capi­tol in Ok­la­homa City in April. A rally in May closed thou­sands of schools.

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