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Teachers to lawmakers: Pay us
Educators demand legislative action on raises
 
Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 8:14 pm
by Latisha Catchatoorian

RALEIGH – Teachers who educate 1.5 million public school children in North Carolina haven’t seen a raise in the last six years. 

PHOTO/LATISHA CATCHATOORIAN
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson spoke at a press briefing supporting teacher raises Wednesday in Raleigh.

“Teacher salaries rank 46th (in the U.S.),” Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said. “To me it’s not a big deal about where we rank…the big issue is that we are at the bottom of the list and that’s not good enough for North Carolina students and our teachers.” 

The North Carolina Association of Educators held a press conference today on the opening day of the General Assembly downtown to make their case that the state needs to make changes now to save public education. 

Atkinson said it is now on the shoulders of lawmakers to pay teachers well and that North Carolina is at a crossroads as to whether it will stop the exodus of teachers to other states or leaving the profession. 

Justin Ashley, a teacher at McAlpine Elementary in Charlotte, and the social studies teacher of the year, has already begun applying for positions in South Carolina. He cited classroom overcrowding and fewer resources coupled with higher expectations and less support. 

“I have always thought of public education as the heartbeat of democracy and our teachers are the heart that keeps the blood pumping, but many teachers in our state are being disheartened by the pay and the working conditions,” he said. 

If he gets a job in South Carolina Ashley said he will earn $7,000 more annually, with a guaranteed increase of $1,000 the following year. 

Ashley choked up when relaying that his son will start kindergarten in the fall and as a taxpayer and a parent, he hopes the schoolhouse his son walks into will be fully funded, but doesn’t think that expectation will be met. 

“Gov. (Pat) McCrory and our legislative leaders need to take strong action this year. Teachers are making decisions this year about whether to invest in a masters degree or go to a state where professional advancement is valued,” said NCAE President Rodney Ellis. “Teachers are making decisions this year whether to stay in a state that has robbed them of their due process rights or go to a state where those rights are respected.”

Ellis said North Carolina funding for teacher salaries and per pupil funding are declining or barely better than flat. He said the recession is not an excuse and neither is Medicaid funding and the state should “be embarrassed.” 

“In February the governor said he wanted to increase the base pay for North Carolina teachers to $35,000. We have said that all teachers deserve a fair and professional pay raise,” he said. 

Ellis said these outlined pay raises and steps are inadequate, given that teacher pay has been frozen for six years. 

James Ford, a world history teacher at Garinger High School, said students will ultimately suffer for this inaction, and the way that we treat educators is indicative of how we feel about students. 

“As the short session of the General Assembly opens up we are no doubt in a precarious situation, one I believe will determine the fate of every sector in the state of North Carolina,” he said. “There is not a single profession that does not begin at the hands of sound instruction from teachers.” 

Ford said teachers don’t want to be fabulously wealthy, but they don’t want to work for peanuts either. 

“We do this work because we know what a quality education can do,” he said. “We know that education is pro business, attracting companies and providing a steady workforce. It breaks cycles of dependency, poverty, and violence. It ensures the criminal justice system functions properly giving jurors the necessary skills to render verdicts after critically analyzing evidence keeping citizens in a democracy to properly govern themselves.” 

Teachers also spoke out against a recent law that requires school boards to ask 25 percent of teachers to give up their vested tenure. 

“The board of education for Durham Public Schools stands up for children’s education by standing up for its teachers. We have taken two major steps this year that demonstrate our support. First we joined Guilford County and filed litigation asking for relief from implementing the 25 percent provision of the new tenure ending wall,” said Heidi Carter, chair of the Durham board of education. “Secondly we supported the NCAE litigation with a signed affidavit against revoking the right of a tenured teacher to due process and a fair hearing in case of dismissal.” 

She said the “25 percent provision” is not about rewarding excellence in teaching but is an attempt to coerce teachers to give up their duly earned right to tenure before 2018 in exchange for a $500 bonus and a four-year contract. 

“I challenge our legislatures to do right by their constituents and do what’s best for our state.,” said Elizabeth Foster, president of the Guilford County Association of Educators and a certified special education teacher. “Attacking public education is not how we grow our future or our economy. Our state is watching what politicians do in the short session because we will remember in November.”

 

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