Durham County

DPS school hold Walk-ins in show of support for public education

State Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Durham/Orange, warned educators and parents Monday to not be fooled, as he sees it, by headlines that will soon be coming out of Raleigh touting a big pay raise for teachers.

Speaking at Southwest Elementary School as part of a state-wide day of school “Walk-ins” to support public education, Meyer said it will require a look beneath the headlines to see that the Republican-led General Assembly will actually put little new money toward public education.

Meyer said the headlines about the teacher pay raises will be part of the state Senate’s budget recommendation when the Senate releases the legislative budget, possibly tonight May 8 or Tuesday, May 9.

“One piece of good news that you’re going to hear is there is going to be a large pay raise for teachers this year,” said Meyer, who has a child who attends Southwest and whose wife teaches there. “But, don’t fall for the big headline and fail to see what’s underneath that.”

Meyer added: “What the legislative leaders in Raleigh are going to do is run out a giant headline about a teacher pay raise and there’s going to be frozen education spending or cuts on almost everything else.”

He said there will be no extra money for textbooks, as Gov. Roy Cooper requested or increased spending on early childhood education.

“They’re going to try to confuse you by making you think everything is OK because they’re going to give teachers a raise, but we know that there is so much more our children deserve in school,” Meyer said.

In a statement, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the House will “maintain its teacher appreciation agenda in 2017 by building on the nation’s fastest growing teacher pay since 2014, keeping public school investments a priority and passing education reforms to boost student achievement at every grade level.”

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Guilford, Rockingham, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The “walk-in” at Southwest was attended by more than 100 students, parents, educators and other supporters of public education, many of them wearing red in a show of solidarity.

Several other schools across the district also held walk-ins to support public education. The walk-ins are part of a week-long series of state-wide actions coordinated by the N.C. Association of Educators.

Other state-wide events include “Lobby Day” at the General Assembly on Wednesday, May 10.

In Durham, the Durham Association of Educators (DAE) led the effort to organize walk-ins at DPS schools.

The DAE will hold a “Town Hall Meeting” at the Holton Resource Center, Saturday, May 13 from 1 p.m., to 3 p.m., to discuss public education.

At Southwest, students made posters that demanded more money from state and local officials and highlighted the educational needs of the school and the district.

County Commissioner James Hill, who has a second-grader at Southwest, said a budget is more than numbers because it shows a one’s priorities.

“Any nation that doesn’t value its children will never grow, never prosper,” Hill said. “Children are the most important thing that we have in our society. They are the most important thing that we can invest in.”

Hill said he would be willing to approve a tax increase to support Durham schools.

“If I have to raise taxes for something, it would be for our children, for their education,” Hill said.

Like many of the speakers Monday, Hill said state lawmakers need to be pushed into funding North Carolina schools at the national average.

The state’s per-pupil-spending is roughly $9,000, about $3,000 behind the national average of $12,000.

“If we had that in Durham, that would be over $100 million, so instead of looking at a $10 million budget cut, we would have all of the things our kids need, plus more,” said Bryan Profitt, president of the DAE.

Proffitt said the $100 million would pay for such items as a counselor in every school, nurses and more health programs, extra support for students struggling academically, addressing racial equity issues and lowering class-sizes without eliminating art, music and P.E. teachers.

“The things we could be doing for our kids are innumerable,” Proffitt said.

Mayor Bill Bell, whose wife is a substitute teacher at Southwest and whose youngest daughter once attended the school, said the City of Durham doesn’t fund public education, but its leaders consider it a very important part of the community.

Bell urged those in attendance to lobby local and state officials for the resources needed to give Durham’s children the best educational opportunities possible.

“People need to know, particularly local elected officials and our legislators, how important you think schools are to our community,” Bell said. “Don’t assume that they understand that. They know that when they hear from you.”

Daniel Kelvin Bullock, the Durham Public Schools’ executive director for equity affairs and the parent of a kindergartner at Southwest, said teaching is a challenging profession and deserves community support.

He said it’s imperative that lawmakers begin to fund North Carolina schools at the national level if they are sincere about wanting to close the achievement gap between children of color and their white counterparts.

“As the equity director, I’m particularly interested in this issue because ultimately per-pupil-spending becomes and equity issue,” Bullock said. “In Durham, where we have a wide-range of students who do not necessarily enjoy the same economic resources, schools have to be sanctuaries of equity.”

Bullock said closing the achievement gap and leveling the playing field for economically disadvantaged kids will take money and resources.

Crystal Rogers, the PTA president at Southwest, called on state lawmakers to fund North Carolina schools at the national average, and noted the more than $10 million in budget cuts proposed by DPS as part of the budget for the 2017-18 school year.

“We all know that budget cuts will hurt our kids,” Rogers said.

In addition to raising per-pupil-spending to the national average, Rogers and others called on the state to eliminate the current A-F school report cards based on high stakes test scores and to shift to an evaluation model that’s based on student growth.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645