Durham County

Gov. Cooper back on campaign trail, this time for school supplies

Durham students show Gov. Roy Cooper how they start their day

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper started his state-wide school supply drive at Pearsontown Elementary School on Aug. 8, 2017. He visited classes and spoke to children during his visit.
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N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper started his state-wide school supply drive at Pearsontown Elementary School on Aug. 8, 2017. He visited classes and spoke to children during his visit.

Sarah Spaeth, a first-grade teacher at Pearsontown Elementary School, seemed almost ashamed to say how much of her own money she’s spent buying supplies for students attending the year-round school.

Spaeth said the money went for notebooks, folders, pencils and other supplies her students will need to be successful this school year.

“Maybe $200, $300,” she whispered when a reporter asked Tuesday, shortly after Gov. Roy Cooper and an entourage of educators, business leaders and others left her classroom.

“I think a lot of the time, I spend more time worrying about supplies than planning instruction,” said Spaeth, who is also raising money for school supplies through an online crowdfunding site. “It ends up costing us the time that we could spend planning our instruction and teaching our students.”

Spaeth’s classroom was one of several toured by Cooper, who announced a statewide school supply drive that will run Aug. 14 to Sept. 8.

Cooper is asking North Carolinians to buy and drop supplies off at State Employees Credit Union branches, state government offices and businesses.

“One thing we know is that far too often teachers are having to dip into their own pockets to cover the cost of classroom supplies, supplies that their students need to learn and supplies that the state currently is not providing to them,” Cooper said.

He said he hopes the campaign will be short lived.

“What we want is a school system that provides what teachers and students need and that we don’t have to hold these kinds of drives,” Cooper said.

Communities In Schools of North Carolina chapters and AmeriCorps volunteers will distribute the supplies to classrooms.

Cooper said citizens could also start supply drives at their workplace using a start-up kit available at http://bit.ly/2vCjvql

Like Spaeth, Krystal Burnette, a kindergarten teacher at Pearsontown, has also spent her own money on school supplies.

“So far, I’m probably at $250, but it’s worth it,” she said.

It’s not just the teachers. It’s me, the assistant principal, the staff. We feed the kids when they’re hungry.

Rod Teal, principal

It’s estimated that teachers spend more than $500 a year out-of-pocket each year to stock classrooms with supplies.

Principal Rod Teal said the school’s administrative staff and others also buy school supplies, snacks and other items students need.

“It’s not just the teachers,” Teal said. “It’s me, the assistant principal, the staff. We feed the kids when they’re hungry and we provide them with school supplies when they need them.”

Mike Lord, president of SECU, said the credit union’s participation is in keeping with its commitment to education.

“We support children and we support this effort,” Lord said.

Throughout the tour of the school, Cooper asked students questions and even signed autographs, though he warned the autographs “wouldn’t be worth much” in the future.

He was introduced to fourth-grader Ryan Best, the school’s president, who asked for advice about preparing for a career in law and politics.

At a news conference in the school’s media center, Cooper turned political, noting that his budget proposal to provide teachers with a $150 annual stipend to help offset the cost of purchasing supplies did not make it into the budget passed by the Republican-led General Assembly.

“I did this because it was an acknowledgment to teachers what we already know they’re doing,” Cooper said. “And we wanted to show respect to them by providing this stipend. The General Assembly did not include it in its budget.”

Cooper vowed to keep pushing for the stipend.

“Hopefully this can be the last of the school-supply drives,” Cooper said. “Hopefully in next’s year’s budget, they’ll do better.”

Cooper said he has spoken to state business leaders and urged them to go to the legislature and demand more support for education.

“Instead of cutting my corporate tax and instead of cutting taxes for the wealthy, I want you to take those resources and invest them in education and that means early childhood education, K-12, community colleges and universities,” Cooper said. “I want North Carolina to be a Top 10 education state by 2025.”

He said it’s critical that the state better prepares students for the jobs that are coming to North Carolina.

“The way to get people out of low-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs, the way to make sure people are ready for those good-paying jobs is quality education,” he said. “We can’t keep short-changing the public schools, you can’t keep siphoning off money for private school vouchers and still have quality public school education.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645