Teacher rallies move from legislature to school boards across NC in push for raises

14December 2021

— Saying the state budget has failed teachers, the North Carolina Association of Educators has called on teachers to march in their hometowns to demand better pay from local officials.

The “Our Kids Can’t Wait” campaign was in Smithfield on Tuesday, where about a dozen teachers, school staff and parents held a rally before attending the Johnston County Board of Education meeting.

“Our schools are in crisis,” said April Lee, president of the Johnston County NCAE. “We’ve tried to leave it up to our legislature, and our legislature here in North Carolina continues to fail the staff and students.”

The NCAE wants school districts across the state to use federal pandemic relief money to provide raises to school staff, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

The state budget that was signed into law last month gives teachers a 2.5 percent raise in both the current school year and the 2022-23 year, along with bonuses of up to $2,800. Most districts also will get money from a $100 million salary supplement fund that was added to the budget.

Non-certified school staff will see their hourly wages increased to $13 this year and $15 in 2022-23.

Mollie Carite, a teaching assistant at McGee’s Crossroads Elementary School, said staff are leaving regularly because of the “poverty wages” they earn.

“We need livable wages. We can go elsewhere for it. We don’t want to do that,” Carite said.

In Johnston County, the raises will push the starting salaries for teachers from $38,675 a year to $40,078. But state NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said the raises don’t keep up with inflation nor make up for years of underfunded school budgets.

“Two years’ worth of work and even more for our veteran educators [is] only equivalent to a tank of gas? That’s simply unacceptable,” Kelly said.

Massive teacher rallies at the legislature a few years ago led to more school funding in the state budget. The “Our Kids Can’t Wait” campaign is designed to raise awareness among local officials about the need for even more school funding, Kelly said.

“Our educators are turning to their local school boards and districts to help fill in the gaps for the resources our students so desperately need,” she said. “Our conditions for our students and our educators won’t change unless we continue to tell our stories.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s office dismissed the NCAE campaign, saying in a statement that the organization has a track record of “dead-ends it has led its members down.”

“The NCAE has been opposed to every teacher pay raise Republicans have offered, including the highest teacher pay raise in the entire country a few years ago,” the statement said.

The Wake County Board of Education recently approved raises and bonuses for Wake County Public School System staff following protests by bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

“I think, this year, we have the added element of stress from staffing shortages that has made it more than just a pay issue and more of a working conditions issue,” said Emily Walkenhorst, WRAL News’ education reporter.

But Walkenhorst said school officials have been hesitant to use the one-time influx of pandemic relief funds on recurring expenses like raises.

“I think that there is some appetite to maybe spend some of that money on increases they think might be covered by the state in future years,” she said.

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