RALEIGH — A proposed statewide teacher walk-out to protest pay and working conditions is getting a mixed response from the people it is supposed to benefit.
Some think skipping school en masse could give teachers leverage in budgeting decisions, while others see the proposed disruption as a set-back to their relationships with parents, administrators and students.
Word of the proposed Nov. 4 protest first spread via a pseudonymous web posting and now has a Wake County teacher as a central advocate. The plan calls for teachers to not show up for school that day to press for “a fair balance between workload, expectations and compensation for our teachers,” according to a rallying cry on Facebook and at ncteacherwalkout.weebly.com.
Despite the name, organizers of the “walk-out” are encouraging teachers to call in sick or schedule an appointment rather than show up for school and then leave. More than a month before the event, about 520 people had registered online as “going,” but organizers said the true turn-out would be nearly impossible to predict.
“We stood out in the summer with our signs and picketed. We tried everything else, and nothing is working,” said Josh Hartman, a technology teacher at Holly Ridge Middle School in Holly Springs. He is quitting this month to pursue photography full-time – and he has taken an organizing role in the walk-out to fight the conditions that he says drove him out of teaching.
“I’ve been in Wake County for six years now, and I’ve been stuck at the same pay,” said Hartman, 29, who said he has received a single small raise on his $34,000 annual salary. “At the same time, they put more and more on our plate. I think a lot of teachers are at that breaking point.”
Salaries for Wake County teachers range from $35,189 for a beginner to $77,150 for a 36-year teacher with a master’s degree and certification, according to a current pay schedule. Wake County teachers have received one raise in the last five fiscal years – in 2012-2013, they got a 1.2 percent raise from the state and a 1 percent raise from Wake County.
Several advocacy groups are fighting the same fight, but their members think a walk-out would be polarizing.
Heather Dinkenor, who has taught English at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh for 18 years, calls for a gentler approach. Her group, Red 4 Ed NC, urges people across the state to wear red on Wednesdays to honor educators and send a message to state legislators.
“I think it’s just simply saying, ‘We are protesting your choices by continuing to give absolute excellence to our students, to the school community,’” Dinkenor said.
She understands the argument that drastic measures like a walk-out are needed, but she worries about who would be hurt by it.
“Obviously, the students,” she said. “Are we hurting whatever camaraderie, whatever community support has been built up between families and teachers and students? Are we hurting the connection between administrators and teachers when we walk out the door?”
The N.C. Association of Educators says it is neither organizing nor endorsing the walk-out, but says that teacher agitation is a consequence of state government’s failure to provide an adequate budget for education, specifically blaming the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory.
In a written response, the governor’s office defended McCrory’s record and warned against the walk-out.
“The governor is focused on solutions to recruit, retain, and reward our hardworking and valuable teachers across the state,” wrote Ryan Tronovitch, deputy communications director. “This teacher strike doesn’t get us to a solution and puts the education of our children in jeopardy.”
The NCAE also warned of the potential consequences for walk-out participants. North Carolina law bans strikes by public employees, defining a strike as any deliberate slow-down or cessation of work, punishable by a misdemeanor criminal charge.
The walk-out plan got its start in Wilmington, where a real estate agent decided to take teachers’ complaints into his own hands. “Mike Ladidadi,” as he identifies himself, invited a handful of people to a Facebook event advertising the walkout. Contacted for comment, he declined to speak under his real name.
That initial post has spun off into new efforts, according to organizers. Hartman, who knows the original poster through friends, created a walk-out website, and local groups have pushed for participation too, he said.
Cissy McKissick, 52, hopes the walk-out finds traction, but she won’t be participating. She works with children who have behavioral conditions at an alternative elementary program in Wake County.
“Our school is really small, and we have students with some needs,” McKissick said. “Who I would end up punishing would be the kids and the staff who would be left behind.”
McKissick also worries the protest could fuel unfavorable stereotypes of “greedy” teachers.
Stephen Bumgardner, the husband of a Durham County teacher, hopes “that every single teacher will participate,” he said, though he does not know whether his spouse will. He said his wife’s salary has been nearly static for 10 years, frozen first by a probationary period and then by an unchanging budget.
“There’s no way in the world they're going to give 30,000 teachers a Class 1 misdemeanor,” Bumgardner said, adding that the state’s schools couldn’t afford to fire any significant number of teachers. His wife fielded multiple job offers in Las Vegas over the summer, he said.
But Bumgardner acknowledged that teachers would be taking a risk by walking out. If few teachers participate, he said, those who do may face repercussions.
Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC