Amid lobbying from the Jewish community, the Wake County school board voted Tuesday to give traditional-calendar students the day off on Yom Kippur in 2015 in recognition of the day’s religious and cultural importance.
The school board also adopted Tuesday a legislative agenda that urges the General Assembly to raise teacher pay this year. At the same time, board members said they’ll continue to fight for the local pay raises that Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann did not include in his recommended budget.
The calendar vote, including Yom Kippur as a teacher workday, came after speakers said that forgoing classes on Yom Kippur would show respect for minority communities. An imam from the Islamic Center in Raleigh was present to show support for not having school on Yom Kippur, as Sept. 23, 2015, is also a religious holiday for Muslims.
“When you consider minorities in your teacher workday selection, you consider the development of all of our children,” said Rabbi Lucy Dinner, senior rabbi of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh. “It is one thing for an adult to discern when and how to express ourselves as minorities – whether that be a minority religion, or minority culture, or minority preference. But for our children, it is more complicated than that.”
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Observance wins out
On teacher workdays, students don’t have classes. Teachers can get permission to take off some workdays. Wake builds in 15 workdays before classes start, during the school year and after classes end.
If Wake had opted to hold school on Yom Kippur, students would have been able to get an excused absence for religious reasons.
Each year, a school district committee made up of teachers, principals, administrators, parents and community members develops a schedule for traditional-calendar schools, which educate the majority of Wake’s 153,000 students. The committee has historically tried to schedule a teacher workday on either Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, or Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year.
The first 2015-16 school-year calendar proposed by the committee had a workday on Yom Kippur. However, school board member Bill Fletcher questioned that choice because it would fall on a Wednesday, a schedule he said would be inconvenient for families.
In response, administrators began developing calendars that would move the Yom Kippur workday to a different day. The potential changes mobilized the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary to urge the school board to keep the Yom Kippur workday.
Administrators said they had presented three calendars to the calendar committee and to the superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council. Both groups backed the calendar that kept the workday on Yom Kippur.
The 2015-16 calendars were approved on an 8-1 vote with Fletcher the lone dissenter. Board chairwoman Christine Kushner cited the support for the calendar from staff and teachers and the impact on attendance if school was scheduled on Yom Kippur.
“It’s an issue of attendance,” Kushner said after the meeting.
Teacher raises supported
Some of the most impassioned comments from board members came over the issue of raising teacher pay.
The school board is asking the Wake County Board of Commissioners for a $39.3 million increase in the fiscal year that begins in July, with $29.1 million going toward giving all school employees a 3.5 percent pay raise. On Monday, Hartmann, the county manager, recommended giving the school system a $10.2 million increase.
On the raise, Hartmann said the county would wait to see whether legislators approve Gov. Pat McCrory’s teacher pay increase. But school board members said that the county needs to act regardless of what the state does.
“Excellence in all of our schools starts with a quality teacher in every classroom,” school board vice chairman Tom Benton said. “And if we can’t step up to the plate to make sure that we’re providing the resources so that not just the citizens of Wake County can have that as an expectation, but everybody in North Carolina can have that as an expectation, then we’re failing as a society.”
The school board’s legislative agenda for the General Assembly’s short session includes recommending that the body:
• Raise teacher pay to make North Carolina nationally competitive.
• Provide funding for pay raises for all school employees.
• Repeal the requirement that school districts offer pay raises to 25 percent of teachers in exchange for educators’ giving up tenure rights.
• Keep the Common Core state standards for at least seven years.
• Place a moratorium on providing public funding for students to receive vouchers to attend private schools.