Durham school board votes in support of closing schools on May 16

DURHAM, NC (WTVD) -- Teachers say May 16 will be an important moment for them at the State Capitol. On Wednesday night, Durham Public Schools voted in support of closing schools that day. It will be treated as an optional teacher workday.

Teachers are asking for the community's support as they take their concerns to the General Assembly in two weeks.

"I feel proud to live in this community," said Brian Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, minutes after the board vote. "I feel proud that that this community reached out to the school board, reached out to our elected officials and said, 'We're going to stand with our educators. Our educators stand with us and we're going to stand with them.' And I just feel incredibly proud to live here."

When state lawmakers return to work May 16, they will be greeted by hundreds of teachers across North Carolina demanding more money.

Leading the charge in that effort are nearly 1,000 Durham Public Schools teachers who say teachers don't make enough money, and the state's support is weak.

"We're just having to pick up the slack in our pockets," said Turquoise Parker. "My husband is a teacher as well, so we're pulling at both sides, trying to make magic happen in our classrooms.

Turning that magic into advocacy out of the classroom and in Raleigh.

On Wednesday, the Durham school board calling an emergency meeting to determine whether school should stay open May 16 with nearly half of its educators taking a personal day.

"With a thousand teachers out that's pretty difficult to do," said Mike Lee, board chair of Durham Public Schools before the vote. "So there are going to be options on the table and we're going to be talking about those options."

Groups such as the Durham YMCA are looking into how they can support and feed children who rely on free and reduced lunch on that day.

Faith-based groups are also being tapped for support.

"As a former teacher in the Durham Public school system, I can say unequivocally that teachers should be better appreciated and better compensated. I support whatever action helps to ensure that these goals are met," said Pastor Andy Thompson of World Overcomers Christian Church.

Here's list of some of the changes educators want to see.

  • Reduced class sizes

  • Medicaid expansion

  • More funding per student

  • More investment in school counselors, social workers and nurses.

  • Cap on public charter schools

Right now, education leaders say although North Carolina teaching salaries have gone up slightly year-to-year, the state still ranks among the lowest nationwide in overall teacher pay with the total average salary just under $50,000 per year.

"This is a problem. We cannot continue this way. Lawmakers can no longer ignore or defund public education," Lee said.
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