CLAYTON — Twenty Johnston County teachers who are fed up with how they’re being treated aired their grievances Monday at a forum with state Rep. Leo Daughtry.
The N.C. Association of Educators organized the forum, one of many the group has organized across the state in the hope that hearing firsthand from teachers would make legislators more sympathetic.
North Carolina’s teachers salaries are ranked 48th in the country. Proposals in the Senate and House budgets that would increase class size, decrease supplements for a master’s degree and end tenure have made the relatively low salaries even less bearable, teachers say.
High school English teacher Jennifer Holley said that after seven years as an educator, she only makes $34,000 and is unable to afford health insurance for her three children. She said she took out $20,000 in loans to get her master’s degree, but the degree didn’t bring in any extra money because it’s all absorbed by paying off the loans.
Holley, whose husband works for the sherrif’s department, said she spends $12 a week on lunches of peanut butter sandwiches, apples and yogurt, because that’s what she can afford.
She said if she were to move to Virginia, she’d make $11,000 more. And in South Carolina, she’d get $9,000 more for her experience.
“I constantly worry that something will happen to one of my children and I won’t be able to help them because they don’t have insurance,” Holley said.
“It is a really sad situation,” said Daughtry, a Republican from Smithfield. “I’m not sitting here defending the House and the Senate. I know you all need a raise.”
The Senate budget, passed last month, phased out salary supplements for master’s degrees for teachers who didn’t already have them in 2013-2014. The House budget would cut supplements unless the job requires a master’s degree.
The Senate budget would cut 4,000 teacher assistants, eliminate teacher tenure, and increase class size in K-3. The House budget would merely alter tenure and keep teacher assistants.
Many of the teachers said they’ve looked for jobs in other fields, and are constantly weighing their love of teaching children and the need to pay their bills.
Terry Weakley, a high school teacher, said he tried to keep his daughter from going into education.
“It has been a demoralizing year for all of us since our student population went up,” Weakley said.
Teachers also spoke about the impact of cutting teacher assistants.
Some teacher assistants arrive at school at 4 a.m. to drive a school bus. They’re also put on lunch duty and help with testing.
“There are some students in kindergarten that can’t use the bathroom, and we’re helping them do that,” said teacher assistant Misty Medlin. “The teachers don’t have time to teach and give that kind of attention when their classes already have more than 20 students.”