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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Some NC Teachers Will Picket For Raises Wednesday Without Disrupting School

Elisa Mendez
Reedy Creek Elementary
Teachers and supporters staged a "walk-in" outside Reedy Creek Elementary in May 2018.

Twelve weeks into the school year and still without a raise, teachers plan to picket outside some North Carolina schools Wednesday. 

They're not talking about walk-outs or strikes, but a less disruptive type of demonstration called "walk-ins."

"A walk-in is when you get to your school – first of all, you’ve got to get to your school before school starts – and you kind of like picket outside. It’s all about making the public aware," Amanda Thompson said after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators news conference Friday. Thompson is a math coach at Walter G. Byers School.

Public school teachers have gotten no raises this year because of a budget deadlock between Republican state lawmakers and Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

On Friday Cooper vetoed a bill that would have provided 3.9% over two years, calling it paltry. Senate leader Phil Berger accused Cooper of using teachers as pawns while blocking their raises.

The North Carolina Association of Educators backs Cooper, saying lawmakers should provide more for teachers and school support staff. 

At a Friday news conference, Randolph Frierson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators said there are no plans to stage walk-outs or mass marches on Raleigh … yet.

"We're trying to stay civil with it," Frierson said, adding that he hopes educators and others who support them can persuade legislators to negotiate with Cooper for higher raises over the next couple of weeks.

But Berger spokesman Pat Ryan says the time for negotiating ended a month ago, when the Senate offered larger raises if Cooper would drop his insistence on expanding Medicaid or if Senate Democrats would help Republicans override Cooper's veto.

Ryan said in a statement to WFAE that the North Carolina Association of Educators was part of a "cynical ploy" in supporting Cooper's veto: "What kind of an advocacy group tells its members that no raise is better than a 3.9% raise?"

In May of 2018 and 2019, teachers held mass rallies in Raleigh for better pay, working conditions and support for students. Both years enough teachers filed to take personal days off that many districts canceled school for the day.

Those actions came amid a surge in teacher walk-outs and strikes across the country. A teachers' strike closed Chicago Public Schools this fall.

North Carolina teachers have also used walk-ins to rally public support in past years. The label comes from the fact that teachers -- often accompanied by parents and students -- picket on the sidewalk before school starts, then walk in when the starting bell rings. 

The scope of this week's action was unclear Monday, as educators scrambled to make signs and line up supporters while hoping the sub-freezing weather forecast for Wednesday morning wouldn't squelch participation.

Rae LeGrone, a teacher at Olympic High in Charlotte who's working on a walk-in there, said she thinks the demonstration is important to build support.

"I believe there's a lot of misinformation in the public," she said Monday. "I know a lot of people have talked to me, saying that they're so glad we got our raises."

Lawmakers will return to Raleigh Wednesday to take up redistricting, but it’s unclear whether they’ll consider teacher pay. Teacher organizers say they hope news conferences and walk-ins supporting the governor's veto pressure legislative leaders to negotiate.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.