11/19/13 Town hall meeting targets education budget cuts, reforms
Town hall meeting targets education budget cuts, reforms
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 11/19/13
Reprinted with permission.
The roughly 40 people at the education town hall meeting Monday night at Williams High School got some homework.
“We believe that you’re going to go out with the information from this meeting and share it in your community,” said Karen Slade, president of the Alamance-Burlington Association of Educators, who moderated the meeting.
Public Schools First North Carolina, a Raleigh advocacy organization for public schools, hosted the forum.
The subject was the impact of budget cuts and wide-ranging reforms in education coming down from Raleigh and Washington.
“Folks, if we don’t do something now, five years from now it will be too late,” said Rodney Ellis, president of the N.C. Association of Educators. “It’s not a partisan issue to support public education. You either support public education or you don’t.”
Derek Steed, general council at Glen Raven who became a leader in creating the Alamance-Burlington School System’s vision plan, talked about focusing on the things people have control over locally, like volunteering in schools.
“These are things that can have an immediate impact,” Steed said, “regardless of what happens in Raleigh or Washington, D.C.”
Later in the conversation, Steed said that while he agreed with some of what the Legislature had done, he thought it went too far on public education. He said nothing influences legislators as much as hearing from voters.
Jackie Cole, an Alamance-Burlington Board of Education member, said the school board had depleted its savings to keep from cutting teachers. It cannot do that anymore.
Lillie Cox, ABSS superintendent, said the funding cuts limited the system’s flexibility. With 400 more students than expected, mostly in the east side of the county, the system did not have the local funding to bring in more staff, so teachers in other schools had to transfer, disrupting classes.
“Right now, we need to find $3.3 million to maintain what we have in the school system,” Cox said.
The tight budgets, cuts to teacher benefits like extra pay for getting a master’s degree, and top-down reforms like the Common Core and state accountability standards, are wearing on teachers, Cox said.
“We know keeping teachers in the classroom is more than a few thousand dollars per year,” Cox said. “It’s ‘Is this where I want to work?’”
Cynthia Smith, orchestra teacher at Broadview Middle School, said the budget cuts are showing in schools now. Teachers have classes with 33 or more students, too few desks for all of them and a lot of uncertainty.
“Many of us don’t know if we’re going to have a job next year,” Smith said.
Cole and Cox said the good part is the unity organizations representing teachers, school boards and other groups involved in public education are showing now.
“It has brought us all together,” Cox said.
Ellis said the NCAE had worked to improve its relations with legislators and to influence the budget, which did not work.
Now, Ellis said, NCAE is focused on electing legislators who will support public schools.