For the nearly 1,000 members of the North Carolina Association of Educators gathered at their annual convention, the worries ahead revolve around what the General Assembly will cut to address a budget shortfall estimated to be $2.4 billion in the year beginning in July.
Ideas being floated by the legislature’s new Republican majority include eliminating funding for thousands of teachers and even more teacher assistants, though no decisions have been made by budget-writers. The talk of possible layoffs and likely benefit cuts was fresh evidence that the teaching profession is chronically undervalued, said Pamela Bunch, a 16-year business and career teacher in Guilford County.
“I’m not in this for the money, but I need money,” she said.
“If public education loses out, children can’t win.”
Salaries for teachers are paid by the state and topped off with additional contributions from local governments. The local supplements vary based on the affluence of communities, and state spending hinges on the availability of funds. Teachers received no state raises the past two years. For the rest of the past decade, raises averaged 3 percent or lower except for a brief legislative catch-up effort in 2006 and 2007, when pay raises averaged 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
William Hennessee, who teaches in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district, said deep cuts to public schools would harm the ability to continue producing the educated workforce that has made Research Triangle Park one of the state’s best job-creating centers.
“We didn’t cause the poor economy. If anything, we built the good parts,” he said.
Others focused their ire on Republican legislators and their push to expand the number of charter schools that would compete with existing schools. North Carolina has maintained a statewide limit of 100 charter schools since the less-regulated public schools were created in the mid-1990s. The state’s charter schools say they have a combined 20,000 families on their waiting lists.
NCAE vice president Rodney Ellis said the charter school expansion is part of a campaign by GOP lawmakers in several states to trim public school spending in order to cripple groups representing public employees.
“This is not a coincidence, ladies and gentlemen, it is a conspiracy,” Ellis said. “They want to privatize public schools or convert them into charter schools.”
“We are officially at war,” he said.
That language dispirited Alan Hawkes, president of the board of
directors of Greensboro Academy, a K-8 charter school. He said he attended the 65,000-member group’s convention to try to persuade NCAE’s leaders to accept the growth of charter schools and try recruiting teachers working at them.
“If they celebrate diversity so much, why not diversity in public schools?” Hawkes said. “This is an entirely new sheriff in town. The adults have control of the legislature now.”