Teachers rally in Raleigh on May 1

Guilford County School teachers planning together after the rally. The teachers marched on Raleigh with five main points to advocate for their students.

Guilford County School teachers planning together after the rally. The teachers marched on Raleigh with five main points to advocate for their students.

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On Wednesday, May 1, there was an optional teacher workday, much to the delight of students in Guilford County. However, this teacher workday was not initially in the school calendar for the 2018-19 school year. It was instead a result of many teachers and school employees in the county taking time off of work to rally in Raleigh.

Last year, many teachers across the country walked out and participated in strikes, advocating for better payment, among other causes. In February of 2018, it started with teachers protesting in West Virginia and going on strike for several months.The protests spread across the country, with North Carolina effectively canceling the school day on Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

This year, the rally happened on May 1. According to North Carolina Association of Education member Harriett Turner, there were practical reasons for choosing this date.

“We rallied in May both years to be present when the education budget was being discussed and voted upon,” Turner said.

There was also historical significance to the date.

“Although May Day has various recognitions and goes way back in history, it was synchronistic with the parades and strikes in 1884 and the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions setting the eight-hour workday on May 1, 1886.”

Several teachers at Northwest participated in these rallies such as Astronomy teacher Steven Rusillo.

“(We marched) to raise awareness of the issues mentioned in (Mark Jewell’s Facebook), teachers and (unlike last year) custodians and other support staff from schools all over North Carolina marched north on Fayetteville St., around either side of the Capitol, and on to Halifax Mall where they organized themselves by region, and within each region, by county,” Rusillo said. “Speeches were made and music was played, and all who were there were glad that they stayed.”

This year, the teachers rallying had five major points they wanted to convey to the state assembly, according to organizer Mark Jewell’s Facebook page:

 

 

  • Bring back Masters’ pay.

 

Currently, in the state of North Carolina, teachers with a Bachelors or Masters degree are paid the same. Rusillo states this was not always the case

“Teachers carrying Masters and PhDs were paid commensurately,” Rusillo said. “Masters pay was rescinded.”

Teachers were advocating for this pay increase to return to reflect the time, money and effort spent achieving said degree.

 

  • Hire student services.

 

There is a lack of school services for students, such as psychologists and school nurses. Teachers and employees who walked out on May 1 were seeking to bring to the attention of legislators the need for these services in the modern era to help students be healthy physically and psychologically. The state of North Carolina is also below the national average in the hiring of these services.

 

  • Expand Medicaid.

 

Teachers advocated for Medicaid’s benefits to be expanded as so to help students and their families.

 

  • Reinstate retiree benefits.

 

All new hires starting 2021 will not have health care benefits when they retire.

“The retirement issue is twofold,” Turner said. “When the previous governor was in office, there was a bill passed where all new hires, beginning in 2021, will no longer be eligible for state health care in retirement.”

According to Turner, this could drastically affect recruitment rates in North Carolina.

“Guilford County has just over 50 percent lateral entry new hires with no education background,” Turner said.

There are also problems with current retirement benefits.

“Current retirees have not been receiving adequate COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment), leaving them approximately 15 percent behind inflation,” Turner said.

  • Increase the minimum wage to school employees.

Elsewhere in the state of North Carolina, there is a minimum wage of $15/hr. This is not the case for school employees. It takes janitors, bus drivers and many others who are not teachers or administration to make the school a clean and safe environment to learn in. Teachers wanted legislators to raise the minimum wage for these employees to reflect the importance of their positions to the students’ well-being.

Some, like Rusillo, had other reasons for their march.

“My own issue is tied to the funding,” Rusillo said. “I was given 30 Astronomy textbooks in 2011 and am still using those 30…well over 20 of them have been rebound at least once, and as we know rebinds—when used as classroom copies (I certainly don’t have enough to issue individual copies to 165 students so ALL my books are classroom copies) do not wear nearly as well as the original editions, so now I grab $8 copies when I can find them on Amazon Marketplace.”

Rusillo also found that the declaration of North Carolina as the Education State to misguided and misinformed because of the above issues.

“I’m sorry, I don’t care how many good colleges you have in your state, if you can’t find the money keep adequate textbooks in the classrooms of your public schools—or even to keep structures in at least acceptable shape, or reward your teachers and administrators who have advanced degrees—you don’t get to call your state The Education State,” Rusillo said.

Teachers like Turner and Rusillo are hopeful about the results of the rally and the education on the public’s behalf about the education of their children.

“Education is not political,” Turner said. “Education is the foundation of any community, so if the budget does not support public education, we work harder and vote out politicians who don’t get it. We;ve also used petitions, met with legislators and shown up at state and local meetings to hold elected officials accountable.”

Turner believes that the legislators will listen.

“Educators are a strong, dedicated, and motivated group, and we are proactive in working to save public education,” Turner said. “(We’re) not concerned so much about political agendas attacking our message because we will create the future our students so richly deserve.”

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