Education, News

As May 16 teacher rally approaches, North Carolina school closures mount

North Carolina teachers in a 2013 file photo.

North Carolina school closures are mounting in anticipation of an enormous teacher rally in Raleigh next week.

As of this writing, 11 North Carolina school systems have confirmed they will take a day off during the May 16 protest, many of them citing the burdensome cost of bringing on droves of substitutes.

Without closure, local districts would be left scrambling to find stand-ins with more than 10,000 North Carolina teachers expected to gather in Raleigh next week.

Closure will also spare many teachers who would otherwise be forced to forfeit $50 from their paychecks to take a “personal day” for the event, which is being led by the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), the state’s largest advocacy organization for teachers.

Confirmed closures for May 16 include Wake County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Guilford County Schools, Mooresville Graded School District, Durham Public Schools, Nash-Rocky Mount Schools, Orange County Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Asheville City Schools, Iredell-Statesville Schools and Cabarrus County Schools.

Based on the rising number of teachers requesting a day off for the rally, there’s very likely to be more districts closing in the coming days.

The North Carolina rally follows teacher protests in states like Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia, many of them demanding raises and better overall investment in the nation’s public schools.

On Tuesday, NCAE President Mark Jewell called the protests an “indictment” of leadership in the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly. While the NCAE is a nonpartisan group, the organization’s leadership has been particularly critical of GOP leaders in recent years, citing a precipitous decline in school funding since the recession.

“This is a movement, not a moment,” Jewell said.

Teacher pay has also been a focal point of NCAE lobbying. Raises approved by lawmakers in recent years lifted North Carolina’s teacher pay ranking from near the bottom of the nation to an estimated 37th this year, according to a national report, although the state average trails the nation by close to $10,000.

It’s worth noting too that, when adjusted for inflation, teacher pay in North Carolina is down more than 9 percent since 2009, more than twice the national average.

On Monday, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican and one of the legislature’s most powerful policymakers, blasted teachers for their plans, according to the N.C. Insider.

The May 16 rally is timed with the return of state legislators to session in Raleigh.

Look for in-depth coverage of the brewing protests Thursday at Policy Watch.

Education, News

Wake, Guilford schools to close for May 16 teacher rally in Raleigh

North Carolina’s largest school system will join a growing list of districts closing their doors this month in anticipation of a massive teacher rally in Raleigh.

Officials with the Wake County Public School System announced their plans Monday, as teachers plans their protests to coincide with the May 16 return of state legislators to session.

Wake schools weren’t the only ones to announce their decision Monday. Guilford County Schools reportedly will close as well, with thousands of Guilford teachers requesting off May 16.

Mooresville Graded School District announced its plans to close Monday too.

State lawmakers have been under fire from public school advocates and educators in recent years. In part, the criticism stems from lagging teacher pay, although state lawmakers have approved modest raises in recent years.

Still, North Carolina’s overall K-12 funding from 2008 to 2015 was down more than 12 percent when inflation was taken into account, one of the largest declines in the nation, according to a report last year from the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

School advocates say they’re expecting more than 10,000 teachers to converge on Raleigh for this month’s rally, which is led by the state and local chapters of the N.C. Association of Educators.

The interest’s spurred Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools—the state’s second-largest district—to close too, along with Durham Public Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

If districts don’t close, teachers must request a personal day, requiring them to forfeit $50 from their paychecks.

The North Carolina rally follows widespread teacher protests in generally conservative-leaning states like Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona.

Look for more coverage of the May 16 rally this week at Policy Watch.

Education, News

Report: Districts prepare for mass teacher protests May 16

Forsyth Co. teachers Frankie Santoro and Sara Thompson

UPDATE: The Durham Board of Education voted Wednesday evening to close schools on May 16th to accommodate the more than 1,000 educators expected to take the day off to lobby the legislature for better pay.

With close to 1,000 Durham teachers expected to take a “personal day” to rally May 16 in Raleigh, it seems likely that the school system will close schools that day.

A News & Observer report Wednesday examines how other districts are prepping for a large-scale, teacher advocacy day, which is timed to coincide with North Carolina lawmakers’ return to session.

Read on.

From The N&O:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools expects to have a preliminary tally Friday of how many teachers are taking leave that day, said school board Chairwoman Mary McCray. Meanwhile, district leaders are trying to line up all available substitute teachers and drawing up plans to send top administrators in to teach classes.

“I would be willing to go sub in a classroom myself if need be,” said McCray, a retired teacher and former president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators.

Even though Raleigh is in Wake County, which would make it close geographically for teachers to attend the march, Wake school officials say they’re not seeing large numbers of educators who are requesting the day off. Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said they have enough substitute teachers at this point to cover for the day.

Wake hasn’t had to call in top administrators to cover classes since 2015, when many teachers didn’t show up after the district cut into spring break to hold snow makeup days.

Raleigh parent Stephanie Lormand urged interim Wake County Superintendent Del Burns on Tuesday to close school on May 16. She told Burns that he has nothing to lose.

“Please close Wake County schools on May 16th to allow the largest school system in the state to advocate for public school funding at the state legislature,” Lormand said during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

The Durham district has said nearly 1,000 teachers, or about 41 percent of its teaching corps, have requested personal leave May 16, with some schools reporting that nearly all will be absent. The school board will hold a special meeting Wednesday to decide whether to close schools.

The march coincides with the opening of North Carolina’s General Assembly — and with the final month of school, when students are preparing for exams and many high schools are giving Advanced Placement tests.

North Carolina’s teachers and administrators are walking a careful line.

The “March for Students and Rally for Respect” is playing out in the context of recent #RedForEd teacher walkouts and strikes in ArizonaWest Virginia and Kentucky. Sources ranging from The Brookings Institute to Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss have flagged North Carolina as one of the next Republican-led states that’s ripe for a teacher strike.

Leaders of the North Carolina Association of Educators are careful to say their May 16 action is neither a walkout nor a strike. North Carolina is a right-to-work state where teacher strikes are illegal. However, state law gives teachers the right to take personal leave with at least five days’ advance notice — as long as a substitute is available and the teacher pays a $50 “required substitute deduction.”

“The goal is never to strike or walk out. The goal is to change education policy,” NCAE President Mark Jewel said Tuesday. He cast the action as a march for students and a rally for better pay, safer schools and newer buildings.

Erlene Lyde, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, says her group had kept the call to action fairly low key, not wanting to prod principals into doing anything that might restrict participation. But after news of the widespread Durham participation broke, “I think it’s going to ramp up,” she said this week.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg group has one bus to Raleigh filled and a second started, she said. Jewell said that, as of Tuesday, roughly 1,000 people had registered to participate, but those numbers could climb — especially if Durham County alone actually sends hundreds.

Administrators, meanwhile, are trying to support their teachers while avoiding massive disruption. And they don’t want to antagonize the GOP-led legislature that provides the majority of public school funding.

“CMS supports teachers and is advocating for higher pay in the proposed CMS 2018-19 budget,” spokesman Tracy Russ said last week. “The district looks forward to a full day of teaching and learning for students and teachers on May 16 based on current information.”

McCray said she doesn’t consider closing schools this late in the year an option, but she wants to see teachers participate in the march. She says she has heard the state senate will release its budget plan on May 15. Depending on how public education fares, she said, the rally could be a thank-you or a protest.

Education, News

Report: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction should modernize, streamline services

A newly released organizational assessment of North Carolina’s K-12 oversight agency says the state could save some cash by modernizing its information technology and streamlining services.

The report, prepared by international consulting agency Ernst & Young, estimated the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) could ultimately save more than $5 million by implementing 18 recommendations, although the investment would cost about $4 million.

Chris Librizzi, an Ernst & Young managing director who specializes in K-12 consulting, told members of the State Board of Education Tuesday that his office went into the assessment with an “open mind” for its would-be financial implications, although state lawmakers’ budgeted in roughly $1 million in anticipated budget savings from the review next year.

The audit was ordered during last year’s budget process by a Republican-controlled General Assembly that’s been bitingly critical of the state agency’s spending habits in recent years.

Librizzi’s office completed the assessment in twelve weeks, they said, conducting interviews with more than 300 DPI staff workers, teachers and school system administrators.

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said the review was needed to determine “where we are as a department now and where we need to make improvements.”

The 106-page report’s recommendations broadly touched on modernizing and centralizing school data systems, eliminating “siloes” within the agency’s operations and speeding the hiring process within the organization.

The state bureaucracy manages North Carolina’s $9 billion in K-12 funding. The central office primarily supports the state’s 115 local school systems and provides services in poor and struggling school districts, although state lawmakers have ordered more than $22 million in cuts for the department since 2009, much to the consternation of public school advocates.

The report also calls for a “streamlined” system of providing support for school districts. Ernst & Young’s recommendation would decrease field personnel by 5 percent, the report said, with the savings reinvested in local support services.

Look for more on the report later this week from Policy Watch.

Education, News

State Board of Education to hear Department of Public Instruction audit Tuesday

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey (right)

North Carolina’s State Board of Education will hear Tuesday from consultants at Ernst & Young on the results of a controversial audit ordered by the Republican-controlled state legislature last year.

No copy of the report was available at press time Monday afternoon, but it comes amid lingering tension between the public school agency and the General Assembly, which has handed down more than $22 million in cuts since 2009. 

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, backed the performance review, which called upon the consultant to seek out unnecessary or “ineffective” programs and services, evaluate jobs within the department that are “duplicative” and lay out measurable goals, roles and responsibilities for the central office administration.

Lawmakers also budgeted in $1 million in DPI cuts next year as a result of the audit, a move that led some to suggest the legislature made up its mind about the agency’s inefficiency before any review was conducted.

Yet state board members have been openly critical of both the legislature and the audit, suggesting that the deep cuts sustained by DPI since 2009 have seriously eroded the state’s ability to perform.

The agency provides support and advice for schools across the state, as well as intervention in some low-performing schools and districts. Board Chairman Bill Cobey has said DPI is most needed in North Carolina’s poorest districts, which don’t have the local resources to provide the kind of professional development and support offered by DPI.

Tuesday’s board meeting will also include a separate review of performance in the state’s school transformation efforts led by researchers at Vanderbilt University. Look for Policy Watch coverage this week.