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Teachers Set To Lobby Legislators For More Pay, Resources

David Boraks / WFAE
Teachers march on Raleigh for the Red for Ed protest in 2018.

Nearly 2,100 Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers and more than 500 school-based staff are taking the day off to participate in the education rally in Raleigh on Wednesday. So far, 33 North Carolina school districts will be closed tomorrow.

The thousands of teachers attending the rally will also spend time lobbying state legislators for higher pay, better health and retirement benefits and more emotional support staff, such as social workers, nurses, psychologists and counselors.

They also want a pay bump for janitors, cafeteria works, bus drivers and other non-certified school employees, to a minimum of $15 an hour. Republican Rep. Craig Horn of Union County is one of the chairs of the House K-12 education committee. He said he supports most of their agenda but does not think the $15 minimum hourly pay is realistic.

“The impact of that is $120 million recurring,” Horn said. “I don’t see anywhere we'll find that kind of money. But taken into broad context, do we need to continue to improve pay? Absolutely we do. That’s in the works.”

But veteran teacher Justin Parmenter, who teaches at Wadell Academy and was a guest on WFAE's Charlotte Talks Tuesday, is not buying Horn's explanation. He said in addition to the higher pay for non-certified employees, teachers need better benefits in other areas as well.           

"Retiree health benefits were stripped in 2017 for those hired after 2021 and we want to see that policy changed," said Parmenter. 

[Related Content: Charlotte Talks: Teachers Are Headed To Raleigh Again. What They're Asking For This Time]

Although Horn said he supports improved benefits for school employees, he did not come out in support of health benefits for retirees hired in future years.

"People need to live healthier lives and take responsiblity for their health so they won't need so much health care and prescriptions," Horn said. "Why don't we demand of ourselves healthier living?"  

Horn said he thinks the teacher's demands overall will be well received by legislators and as an example, he pointed to legislation he introduced that would reinstate the policy, which ended in 2014, that paid teachers more money for having advanced degrees.

“But not across the board,” Horn said. “I don’t need someone with a math degree teaching world history. So for teachers teaching in their area of study — particularly in STEM fields — in those areas where there is data to show improved student outcomes, I’m very supportive of returning the master’s supplement. I’m sorry we ever cut it.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and many teachers support this legislation that was also introduced in the Senate.

But as the rally approaches, Parmenter and  some other tearchers are not happy that the House appropriations committee will be meeting all day Wednesday, possibly interfering with legislators’ ability to meet with them following the rally. They are also not pleased with proposed legislation that would prevent districts from veering away from their approved calendars except in an emergency; or allow teachers to take leave unless a substitute is confirmed. Supporters of the legislation say it would keep districts from closing on a regular school day for the rally.

Amanda Thompson, a 16-year CMS teacher, also on Charlotte Talks Tuesday, said if that propsed bill had been in effect this year, they would have held the rally anyway.

"That's a punk move and a scare tactic," said Thompson, who is organizing the Charlotte effort. "We would still march."

Thomposon said 16 of the area's 17 legislators have told them that they support portions of their agenda and says she is optimistic that the rally will be successful.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.