LAURINBURG — A couple dozen Scotland County educators joined thousands of teachers at the state capital on Wednesday to lobby state lawmakers for better pay and working conditions.
Around 30 teachers from Scotland County planned to attend the “March For Students and Rally For Respect” in Raleigh. according to Superintendent Ron Hargrave. The Scotland school district was among 73 school districts that did not cancel classes for the march.
“As I have said we support our teachers in having their voices heard in Raleigh. We have given the teachers to participate by taking the leave that is required of them to be away from school, that leave is in the form of personal leave,” Hargrave said. “Teachers had to give a five-day notice prior to taking that leave.”
Teachers who stayed back showed support for their fellow educators by wearing red to school on Wednesday as part of the #RedforEd movement. The march for Raleigh was sea of red surrounding the legislative building as the General Assembly began its short session.
Other districts could not find enough substitutes which resulted in at least 42 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts closing school on Wednesday. Those districts represent around 1.5 million students, or 68 percent of the state’s public school students.
Neighboring counties that were out of school included Robeson, Hoke and Cumberland — one of the largest school systems in the state. The five other largest school systems, Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Guilford County, Winston-Salem Forsyth and Union County were also closed.
Hargrave thanked Scotland High School principal Brian Edkins and his staff for finding qualified substitutes to fill in for the 26 teachers from the high school that attended the rally.
One of those SHS teachers was Kelly Cheek, who teaches sign language and teacher cadets, and was the 2016-17 Teacher of the Year at Scotland High School.
“We have a big crowd of teachers, it’s a very inspiring day. We are here for many reasons but primarily it’s because we love teaching and love our jobs and public education,” Cheek told a reporter. “I work with teacher cadets, future teachers, and that’s why I’m here to ensure the career field is viable and flourishing. We desperately want and need adequate tools, supplies, classrooms and funding. This rally is not about teacher pay, this rally is about doing what we feel compelled in our hearts to do for our students and for the career path we chose.”
The North Carolina Association of Educators, a professional group for the state’s teachers, laid out its priorities and topping the list was per-pupil spending, raising the average teacher pay, livable raises for all public school employees, ending pay for performance based on test scores and dedicated planning and lunch times. The push mirrors the trend of educators around the country rising up to pressure lawmakers for change.
North Carolina is ranked 37th in the country in teacher pay and 39th in per-pupil spending, according to the National Education Association.
“In North Carolina, per-pupil spending is $2,400 behind the national average and average teacher pay is about $9,600 behind the national average, both in the bottom tier of states,” the group contends. “When accounting for inflation, our students and educators lag even further behind.”
State Rep. Garland Pierce, whose district includes Scotland County, said he hopes the march and rally are successful in moving lawmakers to act.
“I am in full support of our educators,” Pierce said. “I think this is long overdue that educators stand up and voice their understanding on salaries and funding for schools.”
Republican legislators content they have raised teacher pay consistently and have worked a 6.2 percent teacher pay increase into the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, marking the fifth consecutive annual increase.
Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s proposed budget calls for an 8 percent average pay hike and putting a $2 billion bond issue for school construction on the ballot.
“I plan to stand arm-and-arm with them and do what I can in the General Assembly,” said Pierce, a Wagram Democrat. “No matter who we are, we’ve all had a teachers that has made an impact on our lives and helped us to become the person we are today. It all started with a teacher.”
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]