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Barbara Dell Carter

Second grade teacher Barbara Dell Carter

Do you remember Barbara Dell Carter?

She’s the second grade classroom teacher at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in “little” Washington, who I visited late last summer while she dutifully prepared her classroom for the first day of school.

As she straightened up her books (many of which she procured through her own means), Carter told me of her fears of facing yet another year without a dedicated teacher assistant (TA), not to mention how to cope with a state budget that dealt significant cuts to other areas of the classroom.

She is worried. Not the back-to-school jitters kind of worried; she has deep-seated concerns about the challenges she will face this year as educators grapple with a public school budget that spends $500 million less than what was spent in 2008.

Five years ago, the teacher assistant who is now sitting in Carter’s classroom preparing instructional materials would typically spend the entire day, every day, with Carter during the school year. That teacher assistant would help her manage 21 or 22 seven-year-old children who need to go to the bathroom, get fed, learn a lesson at a slightly slower or faster pace, or go to the nurse’s office, among many other possible situations, all throughout the day.

Now, that teacher assistant will be shared among four or five other classrooms. So maybe Carter will have a colleague help her manage her classroom for just an hour each day.

Maybe.

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On the heels of its Raleigh job fair in May, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is once again looking to poach North Carolina’s school teachers to come work in Texas for much higher pay. The Texas school district will be holding job fairs this week in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.Houston

The available jobs in Houston, according to Greensboro’s News & Record, are in “critical shortage” areas including bilingual education, secondary math and science, special education and career and technical education.

HISD, which is headed by former Guilford County Schools superintendent Terry Grier, advertises a starting salary for teachers of $49,100. In North Carolina, the starting salary for teachers is currently $30,800. The advertisement says the Houston school district is “prepared to make job offers on the spot.”

North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and there has been no shortage of attention to the fact that teachers, who haven’t seen a significant pay increase in six years, are leaving the state in large numbers.

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in a budget battle over how much more to pay teachers, proposing anywhere from a 6 to 11 percent pay raise and bringing the starting salary for teachers up to $35,000.

But those salary increases may come at the expense of teacher assistants, who could be laid off in large numbers this fall to pay for the pay bumps.

See HISD’s job fair advertisements here, here and here.

nci-vol-2174-300The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report today detailing the health and economic consequences of refusing to accept federal Medicaid money to expand insurance coverage in North Carolina.

If the state accepted federal funds we could provide insurance coverage to 377,000 more people. This influx of federal money would also create jobs and boost our economy. And reducing our uninsured rate would have salutary impacts on the lives of those able to obtain affordable health care.

For example: 27,000 women would gain access to to recommended health screenings; 90,000 people would gain access to a medical home; 50,000 more people would report that they are in good health. The individual financial impacts are no less dramatic. Closing the coverage gap here would mean 17,000 fewer families facing catastrophic medical bills and 53,600 fewer people borrowing money to finance their health needs.

Some claim that North Carolina can’t afford to extend health coverage to more people. When you look at the numbers it’s clear that we can’t afford not to expand coverage. In 2014 the state is giving up $2.7 billion in federal funds. In 2015 that increases to $3.2 billion. In 2016 it’s $3.6 billion. In 2014 we could create 8,700 jobs. In 2015 we could create 19,400 jobs. If a private company or a new military base opened in North Carolina that created 19,000 jobs, politicians would be elbowing each other to get to the ribbon cutting.

The Council of Economic Advisers calls the decision to refuse new Medicaid funds a “missed opportunity.” That’s an understatement; it’s more like a terrible shame.

 

Last night’s Moral Monday demonstrations took an unexpected turn when Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) decided to sit down with teachers, who were staked out in front of his office late last night, to debate some of the education policies he has put forward.

WUNC Education Reporter Dave Dewitt has a great story about how the night went off script and the debate that took place:

But here’s where script took an unexpected turn. Just a few seconds later, Senator Berger came around the corner, pulled some couches into a circle, and offered to have a discussion.

And that’s exactly what they did. For more than an hour and a half, Berger and the protesters discussed education policy and the challenges facing teachers. There were some heated moments, and some passionate disagreements.

For the most part, all parties were respectful. The protestors whittled their list to three items they wanted addressed: they wanted tenure back; they wanted teacher assistants restored; and they wanted Berger to hold a series of public meetings on education. At the end, Berger committed to nothing more than another conversation the next day to consider further meetings.

And instead of being led out in handcuffs, the 15 protesters walked out the front of the building, nodding to Capitol Police officers, to meet their supporters.

Proffitt spoke first: “So we sat down and we had a good conversation, which to my understanding this is the first time this has happened in the last couple of years. So I think this represents a win for the movement because I think we put enough pressure on them that they realized they had to have a conversation.”

When he was done, Bryan Proffitt stepped behind the crowd and tried to gather himself. Someone handed him a bottle of water and the sweater he thought he had lost, and he finally took a deep breath.

He admitted the night had not gone like he thought it would.

“Talk is cheap,” he said.” There needs to be a real opening. But if there’s an opening, we’ll take it. But if it means the threat of arrest, if that means risking arrest again, and putting negative pressure on them again, then we’ll be back.”

Click here to read or listen to DeWitt’s full story.

 

 

Michael Cowin, Assistant Superintendent of Finance for Pitt County Schools, had some startling words for Pitt County School Board members last week, when he presented them with the Senate’s 2014 budget proposal for education.

“It appears that the Senate’s version of the budget proposes salary increases for teachers as a pawn in a political game that allows certain areas of education to be put on the chopping block.”

The Senate budget would cut 117 teacher assistants (TAs) from Pitt County schools, increase class sizes in second and third grades to eliminate 12 teaching positions, reduce the transportation budget by $300,000, and cut five school nurses from the district’s schools – an overall reduction of $5 million in state funding.

“It’s saying these areas aren’t needed,” said Cowin. “We need to promote to our legislative group the importance of teacher assistants in all areas, and not to be using such areas as leverage in a political game.”

Cowin also notes a key conflicting element contained in the Senate budget proposal – drastically cutting TAs while putting $300,000 into the Read to Achieve program, which relies on TAs to administer reading assessments that determine third graders’ reading proficiency.

Watch this cut of the video to see Cowin’s presentation and Board members’ reactions, who applauded Cowin for his courage to stand up and call out the Senate proposal as he saw it – a political game.

You can watch the entire Pitt County school board meeting from last week here.