NC teachers' group getting behind school 'walk in'

Gary d. Robertson, Associated Press
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina public educators unhappy with legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory set aside talk of a grassroots teacher walkout early next month, replacing it what they call a more positive job action.

A handful of teachers who promoted a walkout Nov. 4 instead are now endorsing a "walk in" on that day to promote unity and collaboration on improving schools and working conditions. The North Carolina Association of Educators is also behind the event. They want teachers to wear read and walk in together that morning.

The 70,000-member association, the state's largest teacher lobbying group, had not endorsed the walkout. But president Rodney Ellis said he wasn't surprised teachers considered such risky action in light of legislative and gubernatorial decisions to end teacher tenure rules, freeze pay and create a new taxpayer-funded program for some children to attend private schools.

"When educators consider actions that could result in reprimands or terminations, the message is clear: teachers are fed up," Ellis said. "All educators would agree that we are sickened by what has happened to our schools."

The walkout idea spread online and through social network sites over the past several weeks. Bambie Lockhart, a Wake County kindergarten teacher and one of the walkout's original organizers, said it was never her intent for teachers actually not to show up for school. Rather, she said, it was to draw attention to issues she and other educators are facing and fix them.

"To make that kind of change happen, we need to join hands with parents and administrators and work together to save our schools," Lockhart said at a news conference at the association's headquarters. "The way to begin is to sit down and talk about the things we care most about."

Ellis said elected officials, including General Assembly members, also are receiving invitations to visit schools Nov. 4 and later in November during American Education Week, which was designated by the National Education Association.

North Carolina public school teachers have received one across-the-board pay raise in the past five years. The Republican-led legislature passed a budget this year that told school districts to offer top teachers a chance to sign four-year contracts in exchange for pay raises totaling $5,000 while gradually eliminating tenure.

GOP lawmakers and McCrory have said they want to move toward a pay system that rewards the best-performing teachers. However, creating that system has been difficult and some district leaders argue any plan is unworkable. McCrory has said he wants to locate funds to raise teacher salaries starting next fall. He said a Medicaid shortfall siphoned away hopes for raises this fall.

While Republicans have said that overall public school spending of $7.9 billion this year grew compared to last year, critics say the increase isn't enough for a rapidly growing state. The higher bottom-line number also conceals line-item cuts for support personnel and supplies and teacher assistants, according to GOP opponents.

Lockhart said she and colleagues are frustrated by the increasing number of standardized testing and assessments children in early grades must complete, taking away from instructional time. McCrory also has mentioned reducing testing as a top priority.

North Carolina Education Association officials said they haven't heard of any pushback from school administrators about the "walk in." No disruptions are expected, they said.

"It's not necessarily a protest when you're inviting people into the schools. It's an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue," Ellis said.