Teachers rally in Garner as Wake County mulls budget

kjahner@newsobserver.comJune 2, 2014 

Teachers and some supporters demonstrate on Garner Road near North Garner Middle School in protest of state and county budget policies they say hurt education.

KYLE JAHNER — kjahner@newsobserver.com

— About two dozen teachers and supporters protested state and county education budgets on a street corner near North Garner Middle School on Monday morning, hoping to draw people to public hearings by Wake County commissioners over the county budget.

Organized by North Garner Middle School teacher Marcia Timmel, the protest took aim at various cuts to education including the county manager’s decision not to include a school board-suggested 3.2 percent raise in its budget request.

“We’re hoping that a strong enough show of support tonight would let (the commissioners) realize the public does support stanching this exodus of teachers out of this state,” Timmel said.

County staff included most of the school board’s budget request in its initial draft, but not the pay raises. The commissioners will receive public comment on the issue at public hearings at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday. Republican Paul Coble has said in the past that teacher pay is a state issue and county budget planners noted legislators’ intentions to raise teacher pay in leaving raises out of the 2014-2015 document.

However, on Monday, the Board of Commissioners voted to raise teacher pay without raising taxes.

The state legislature’s proposed budget includes pay raises, which Timmel characterized as a “shell game.” The North Garner Teacher of the Year and semifinalist for Wake County Teacher of the Year noted that the state education budget actually shrank and that the money for a higher starting salary and wage increases, largely for newer teachers, came from other educators. In particular, she blasted the end of longevity pay and the halving of funding for teacher assistants.

Timmel said that increasing costs of insurance and elmination of longevity pay meant teachers with more than 10 years would effectively take about a 1.5 percent pay cut.

“Basically the children have been asked to pay for the teachers, and unlike legislators, we’re not cannibals, so we’re not going to devour our young for personal gain,” Timmel said.

Virtually every time a few cars passed the group, gathered across from the Toot ‘N Tell restaurant on Garner Road, at least some drivers honked their horns in apparent support for the red-clad, sign-wielding demonstrators.

Several other North Garner teachers joined Timmel, including last year’s North Garner teacher of the year, Steve Mitchell. Mitchell started teaching in New Jersey in 1971, and said that when he first moved to North Carolina a decade ago, he earned more in take-home pay than he does today. In addition to the paucity of raises, he said, the last five years have presented teachers with more stress than appreciation.

Mitchell said the controversy “wasn’t about the money.” However, he also noted that experienced, talented teachers could earn more making pastries and cakes than teaching.

“I thought when I came down here in 2004 that North Carolina had a very progressive and very solid education system,” Mitchell said. “It’s about how teachers are treated. It’s difficult, because you can see the education system seems to be going downhill.”

Other North Garner teachers, including math teacher Tammy Lackey, also said they felt unappreciated and that their profession was not valued by policy-makers.

India Walton called the raises that older teachers could take in exchange for giving up their tenure rights “the dangling carrot,” one the teacher four years from retirement said she won’t take.

“If you are going to give us a raise, give us a raise. We work hard every day. We’re here because we love school, we love our teachers, we love the kids. That’s why we’re here,” Walton said.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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