News: CJ Exclusives

Emotions flare as teacher walkout nears

Supporters and critics of a planned teacher rally haven’t been shy in sharing their opinions about the intent of eventual outcomes surrounding the event.

Hundreds of schools prepare to close so teachers can attend the North Carolina Association of Educators’ event in Raleigh on Wednesday, May 16.

Some have passionately called for support for the thousands of teachers walking out of schools to advocate for higher pay, more resources, and better school facilities. Others have criticized the teachers for “abandoning” their classrooms and students to pursue political goals.

“This is straight-up political, Democrat politics,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said. “This is political maneuvering, is all it is. They’ve been doing this all over the country, and that’s what they’re doing here, and it’s just wrong.”

Teachers in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado have gone on strike as they call for raises and more school funding. North Carolina is an at-will employment state, and teachers can’t legally strike because the state bans collective bargaining by public employees.  

Teachers are allowed to take a personal day as long as they give prior notice, but they must pay $50 for a substitute if one is available. Thousands of teachers have asked for the day off, and there aren’t enough substitutes to cover the absences.

“Our goal is overwhelm the system with absences so that the district considers closing school for the day, allowing educators to go to Raleigh,” the May 16 Coalition website reads.

At least 38 school districts and one Durham charter school will close Wednesday, giving more than 60 percent of North Carolina students a day off school.

The website shows a list of demands, including raising per-student spending, raising educator pay, freezing any increase in health-care costs, and placing moratoriums on new charter schools and private school vouchers.

“North Carolina public school educators, parents, and our communities demand better for our students,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell.

Parents will have to rearrange their work schedules to watch their children or find last-minute daycare. Some school districts are offering day camps and subsidized meals for students in need, and local charities are offering to help families affected by the closing school districts.

“Is anyone asking what the parents think? Or what the students think?” Forest asked. “What about the students? What about the single mom who doesn’t know what to do with their kid when all the teachers of Wake, or Durham, or Mecklenburg counties walk out?”

Troy LaPlante’s three sons attend school in Johnston County, one of the many school districts closing Wednesday. LaPlante said academic performance needs to improve before pay raises can be considered.

“Raise the quality of the product that we get for our money, and maybe we can discuss improving funding,” LaPlante said. “When the quality consistently goes down, we should never keep simply rewarding it with more funding and higher salaries.”

LaPlante asked about the lack of rallies when teacher pay was cut and employees were furloughed under the administration of Gov. Beverly Perdue.

“N.C. teacher pay is now at a statewide average of $51K plus on average a $17K health and retirement benefits package plus a pension plan.” LaPlante said. “That is a year-round, full-time salary for a job that is only 10 months out of the year.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson weighed in last week on the march and rally.

“I absolutely support teachers, but I do not plan to attend a protest on a school day,” Johnson tweeted. “We know it affects not only students, but also parents, hourly workers who work at our schools, and also other teachers who might not be taking part in that day.”

In some districts, such as Iredell-Statesville, field trips will have to be canceled. ISS Board of Education Chairman Martin Page said one high school club field trip is canceled. Some high school students were expected to visit with middle school students, but that plan was canceled, too.

Twelve other field trips are still on track, including several year-end trips for elementary students.

“The teachers, administrators, and TAs not going to Raleigh are making sure our children are not deprived of these opportunities,” Page said. “Our high school IB and AP testing is going on as planned, also. Once again, staff stepped up for our children.”