Despite living with budget cuts that hit education, public school teachers are the happiest they've been since 2002 when the state started to survey teachers about their working conditions.
Answering more than 100 questions about leadership, professional development and school environment, teachers and other school employees had more positive responses than in the previous survey on all but two questions.
Overall, teachers are slightly less satisfied with class size and efforts made to minimize paperwork than they were in 2008, when the last survey was conducted. Each declined by 2 percentage points.
Eighty-five percent of teachers said their schools were good places to work and learn.
Nearly 106,000 teachers, principals and other staff - or nearly 89 percent of the public schools' professional staff -responded to the survey.
Teachers in Wake County, the state's largest district, were far less happy with class sizes than their colleagues around the state, with 51 percent saying that "class sizes are reasonable such that teachers have the time available to meet the needs of all students." Statewide, 61 percent agreed or strongly agreed with that statement.
"As budget cuts come, we're seeing larger class sizes than we're used to seeing here in Wake," said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators. "We have middle school classes with 40 kids in them. Class sizes are not reasonable. They're not in line with the standards that Wake has typically known."
Conversely, school employees in Wake, where school ends an hour early each Wednesday for teacher planning time, were much more likely than their peers around the state, 84 percent vs. 63 percent, to say they have time to collaborate with colleagues. The Wake school board recently voted to end the Wednesday early dismissals.
The positive responses were surprising with all the talk of budget cuts, said Eric Hirsch, director of special projects for the New Teacher Center, a nonprofit that works with the state on the survey.
He speculated that teachers are simply happy to be employed and that the federal stimulus money blunted the force of budget cuts.
Money is again the talk in education circles, with the legislature beginning its budget-adjustment session today and teachers preparing for a budget rally Saturday. Gov. Bev Perdue has already proposed deeper discretionary budget cuts than the districts use to trim jobs.
The campaign by teachers, school administrators and parents to counter further cuts rests partly on the argument that they hurt the classroom.
Sheri Strickland, president of NCAE, doesn't expect the survey responses to stay positive if budget cuts continue.
The survey results speak to the adaptability of school employees, said Strickland, whose organization is helping to lead the campaign against more budget reductions.
"When we hit challenging times, collaboration in schools increases," she said.
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