DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Facing a major staffing absence, Durham Public Schools decided to close 12 schools Wednesday.
With schools closed, scores of educators held a morning rally at the Staff Development Center on Hillandale Road to voice their concerns about an ongoing pay dispute cited as the reason many employees decided not to show up for work Wednesday.
Numerous people spoke including the president of the Durham Association of Educators.
"The folks that make the big, big decisions don't want us to be out here today. The folks who have been underfunding and cutting our schools for decades and decades, do not want us to be working with our co-workers," said Symone Kiddoo.
At 2 p.m. there was another event held downtown at DPS headquarters.
Workers said they were fed up.
"I'm a mom. I'm a single mom," said Kaylin Blamo, a DPS data manager. "I lost a fair amount of money in my monthly check. I'm trying to keep my morale."
Hundreds of workers rallied for what they call respect.
"I'm not directly impacted. My paycheck is not affected by it, but I'm indirectly affected in many ways," said Lisa Gerardi, who works at Farm Elementary. "Our schools can't run without our classified workers.
They say they wanted to be heard loud and clear -- demanding the restoration of pay for their years of experience.
Staffers rallied in groups according to the schools they work at in holding the two rallies.
Teachers marched in solidarity with DPS workers at the afternoon rally. Even children stood alongside their parents holding signs.
Staffers said there is strength in numbers as evidenced by the cancellation of classes at 12 schools.
While many workers are affected by the pay issues, others are teachers simply standing in solidarity with their colleagues.
ABC11 heard from one teacher on Wednesday about the message they wanted to send to the school board.
"No pay cuts. Respect our years. Respect our steps. Respect the classified staff. Respect the schools. Respect the students. Literally, this is all about respect for us," said Quentin Headen.
DPS said the Board of Education is "absolutely committed to getting all matters with our employees resolved fairly and as soon as possible." It also urged everyone involved to remember the commitment to "providing our students with the best possible education."
This is all happening on the same day that the interim CFO for DPS, Cierra Ojijo, has her first day on the job.
The teachers' union Tuesday said it expected DPS officials to close numerous schools on Wednesday "because so many of their employees won't be there."
DPS confirmed that the following schools would not operate because of the shortage: Hillside, Y.E. Smith, Whitted School, Lyons Farm, Forest View, Lakewood Elementary, Lucas Middle, Spring Valley, Riverside, Northern, Jordan, and Githens.
In a message sent to parents, DPS said, "We anticipate staffing challenges (at name of school) tomorrow that will prevent us from conducting our school day as normal. Due to these challenges, (name of school) will be closed for students on Wednesday, January 31. Please know that our students remain our top priority although tomorrow's closure will keep us from learning together. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your understanding."
"At the end of the day, a lot of parents know the most important factor is being able to retain staff for a long time and that's something DPS isn't going to be able to do until they completely rectify this situation and the biggest aspect that the union is asking for is transparency," said Ashley Smith, a Spanish teacher at Northern High. "We want to know what is going to happen for February for the classified staff affected; what is the next step."
The DAE said, in part, "the district has still erased years of experience for over 1,300 workers and will begin pay cuts for those workers in February. On top of that, the district still hasn't committed to giving workers a seat at the table to participate in the decision-making process going forward. We deserve better."
The union is calling for the restoration of everyone's years of experience and no pay cuts. It said it wants a "seat at the table" and noted that union member leaders voted last Friday to bring their demands to the Board of Education and wants a response by Friday.
The school board will review proposals for new classified salary schedules at 3 p.m. on Friday.