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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.

If you follow education news in North Carolina, there’s a lot to keep your eyes on this week.

The week kicks off with Moral Monday, which is focused on education. A pre-rally meeting begins at 3pm in the legislative auditorium of the General Assembly building, followed by a 4pm press conference. The actual rally takes place at 5pm on the Halifax Mall — follow #SchooltheNCGA on Twitter for live updates. I’ll be tweeting from there too — follow me @LindsayWagnerNC.

The House budget is expected to be released tomorrow, and possibly as soon as this evening. Tillis and other House GOP leaders will present their budget tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. in the press conference room of the Legislative Building (Room 1328).

Tillis’ comments at the state Republican convention this weekend suggested that he’s more comfortable with the Governor’s budget rather than the Senate’s, so we will see if teachers’ raises are a little lower than the Senate’s proposal, cuts to the rest of the education budget are fewer than the Senate’s, and the UNC system ends up taking that $49 million hit that McCrory suggested to pay for teachers’ raises. Look for stories from N.C. Policy Watch that will take a close look at the House’s budget proposal.

As the House considers whether or not to strip the state of second and third grade classroom TAs, the N&O published this story over the weekend about how Sen. Phil Berger’s justification for scaling TAs back comes from research out of Tennessee, which found that pupils in small classes of 13-17 students did better than those who were in larger classes of 22-25 students staffed with teacher assistants.

Last year, the General Assembly lifted the cap on classroom size and many elementary teachers grapple with classrooms filled with twenty students or more. The research didn’t look at the comparison between the academic outcomes of students in large classrooms with teacher assistants and in large classrooms with only one teacher and no help to manage the chaos.

The disclosure of salaries for public charter school employees was a hot topic last week that will be revisited again by the Senate education committee on Wednesday. At issue is whether or not charter school operators should have to disclose what they pay their teachers and other staff, even though the State Board of Education requires them to be subject to the N.C. Public Records law in their authorization process.

In an initial version of the bill, SB 793 sought to codify the State Board’s rule that charter schools be subject to the Public Records Act — but that language was stripped from a committee substitute bill last week. The Senate education committee will take it up for a vote on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

ICYMI: Last week the big story was Common Core, with the full House voting on a bill that would repeal the academic standards that North Carolina has spent millions of dollars to implement, while the Senate passed its own version of the bill that left a little more room for Common Core to stay in place — but comments from Sen. Jerry Tillman indicated he’d probably find a way to make sure that didn’t happen. Stay tuned to see how it all shakes out when the two houses duke it out in committee, some time in the next few weeks.

North Carolina educator and blogger James Hogan has an interesting take on the Senate’s proposed 21-step salary schedule for teachers, which would raise average salaries by 11.2 percent next year, provided that teachers relinquish their tenure.

Hogan wonders: is the salary schedule, which provides teachers with no raises between years 20-29, cleverly designed to disincentivize teachers from retiring from the profession, with their pensions, by denying them a raise for a decade?

Teachers earn the same $50,000 wage from years 20-29. That’s a decade of service without a pay raise. In year 30, teachers earn just $42 more. Then, wages rise again, topping out at $56,129 at 36 years of service.

That means 16 years of teaching service–almost half the pay chart–is rewarded with only a cumulative 12 percent salary increase. The same working span, when measured from a teacher’s fourth through twentieth year of service, sees a cumulative salary increase of 47 percent.

So the plan clearly benefits teachers in the middle of the pack. And it provides a clear disincentive for teachers who seek to retire from teaching by denying them a raise for a decade. Why would the Senate structure salaries like that?

This is where the decision to give up career status becomes very important. Make no mistake–the Senate pay scale rewards young teachers and pushes older teachers out in the last third of their career.

And why would the state government be interested in teachers leaving the classroom in their last ten years of teaching? The answer, I’m afraid, rests in some of what Senator David Curtis said in his now-infamous response to Charlotte teacher Sarah Wiles [who wrote a letter to legislators complaining about teachers' pay in the state]:

“You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.”

What he’s saying is the state retirement pension program is the last golden egg for teachers. Here’s why. Say you’re a teacher who began your career the year after college at age 22. You taught for thirty-three years in North Carolina and retired at age 55. Based on today’s standards, you’re set to earn about $28,000 per year in retirement income every year until you die.

If you live another 33 years and die at age 88, that means you stand to collect $924,000 in retirement income. And the reason Senator Curtis was so ardent in pointing out the pension system to Ms. Wiles is that pensions cost the state a lot of money, and my guess is the fiscal conservatives in Raleigh are interesting in doing whatever they can to change that.

It’s an interesting theory. Read Hogan’s full piece over at The Washington Post.

Yes, you read that right — Wake County Public Schools would have to eliminate nearly 700 teacher assistants this fall if the Senate’s budget plan becomes law this summer.

The county would have to cut 693 TAs out of 1,250 positions allotted for the upcoming school year, according to WNCN. The Senate’s budget offers teachers who give up their tenure an average 11 percent pay hike beginning this fall. To pay for the plan, Senate leaders decided to gut the budget for teacher assistants — a line item that has already suffered deep cuts over the past several years.

“It is a great step in the right direction to address teacher salaries,” Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner said, “but we have teacher assistant positions that are being cut.”

The school system further said it would have to reduce bus services and the number of drivers used to transport students due to a proposed cut of $2.9 million in transportation funding.

There could also be a reduction in the number of drivers education classes offered for students, the school system said.

The raises built in to the Senate budget are for teachers paid with state money. Wake Schools said it would cost the school system $13 million to provide raises to any teachers paid with local funding.

Wake Schools cautioned that providing local raises could mean additional personnel cuts.

Cumberland County Schools has reported it would have to cut 220 out of its 330 teacher assistant positions — and that comes on top of cutting 100 positions they have already slashed for the upcoming year.

Some counties use TA funds to pay teachers’ salaries as well. In Stokes County, the Senate budget plan would mean cutting eight teaching positions in addition to 30 TAs.

Members of the House have reviewed the Senate and Governor’s budgets and plan to have their budget on the floor by the end of this week.