Public school teachers, support staff rally in Raleigh for additional funding, support
Wednesday’s rally for public education in downtown Raleigh may have looked a lot like a rally held last year, but, NCAE President Mark Jewell said, the group had five new priorities and was joined by school personnel from administrators to assistants to school psychologists.
Last May, 42 of the state’s 115 school systems closed for the rally, which drew about 20,000 people. This year, 34 school systems and four charter schools were closed, and employees who quietly make sure schools operate smoothly marched alongside teachers from across North Carolina.
“I have a lot of coworkers and friends who are working two jobs just to make ends meet,” said Roosevelt Williams, who is a bus driver and custodian in Durham.
Williams marched in support of a proposed $15 per hour minimum wage for all school employees.
“If bus drivers don’t get the kids to school there’s no one to teach, and if custodians don’t clean the school it poses a hazard to everyone,” he said.
But it’s not just about pay, many marchers and rally speakers said that schools need more employees in support roles, like school counselors, nurses and social workers.
“Sometimes we have to send kids to the office with cuts to broken arms to teeth falling out and the secretaries are the ones that have to handle everything right now,” said Jen Raschella, a Wake County teacher.
That was the first among the NCAE’s listed priorities for this year. President Mark Jewell said they were asking lawmakers to:
Teachers agree that without their support staff, from teaching assistants to librarians, healthy schools can’t exist.
“Librarians I’d like to think are the heart of the school. We work with every student. I know every student in my school by name,” said Pam Bobay, a Wake County school librarian.
Following the march, the group gathered on Halifax Mall for a rally.
In a speech to the crowd, NCAE Vice President Kristy Moore echoed the sentiment about the importance of focusing on the “entire student.”
“We need to support the entire student, from their mental health, to their physical health, to their academic success,” she said to the cheering crowd.
Keena Proctor, a teacher assistant from Asheville, said she has worked at her school for 26 years - longer than any other educator - yet, she makes less than $13 per hour.
“I have proven myself to this state for 26 years,” she said passionately.
Proctor said she recently turned 51, but she still lives at home with her parents because she cannot afford to live alone.
Gov. Roy Cooper spoke to the crowd saying, “I am here today to strongly support our public school educators.”
He also took a moment to speak about the fatal shooting at UNC-Charlotte Tuesday evening.
“I am deeply saddened, frustrated and angry,” he said.
Cooper said he was at the university Tuesday night and planned to head back to Charlotte immediately following the rally for a planned vigil Wednesday evening.
“Every day, I will fight for public education in this state,” he said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson had previously pleaded with teachers to stay in the classroom on Wednesday instead of attending the rally so students don’t miss any instruction.
“I personally hope that teachers do not come on May 1 because we’ve had such a hard year this year with hurricanes and bad winter weather,” Johnson told WRAL News. “I just ask that teachers will consider coming perhaps on a day that doesn’t interfere with instruction. But also, importantly, we have certain school employees who won’t get paid if they don’t work, such as school bus drivers.”
He added that the state is “not where we need to be” in terms of per-pupil spending, but there is no specific dollar amount that would make North Carolina’s public education among the top in the country.
Johnson, a Republican, has had a strained relationship with the NCAE and did not attend last year’s rally. Instead, he headed 100 miles east to meet with school leaders in Craven County near the coast. This year, he was at the State Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh for the State Board of Education’s bi-annual planning and work session. He did make a brief appearance on Halifax Mall to speak with WRAL’s David Crabtree and Lena Tillett.
Rep. Jeff Elmore, R- Alexander, Wilkes, said that lawmakers are working to improve teacher pay.
“You can’t eat an elephant all at one time,” Elmore said.
He said their goal was for the state’s teacher pay to be number one in the Southeast, and right now, North Carolina ranks second.
“You can’t do it all in one year,” he said.