Barry Saunders

Affordable housing for teachers is noble but misses big picture – Saunders

Remember on Sanford & Son when Lena Horne asked Fred if Li’l Lame Lamont attended school, and Fred said, “Not anymore. He’s a drop-in”?

Lena: You mean a dropout?

Fred: No, a drop-in. He dropped in a few times, then he just quit.

The only reason I wasn’t more of a drop-in as a student was because I imagined this conversation occurring in the teacher’s lounge at Leak Street School:

Teacher No. 1: Well, it sure is peaceful in my class today. Saunders is home sick.

Teacher No. 2: He can’t be too sick. I saw him out in the backyard shooting a basketball when I came to work this morning.

That was the main – no, the only – drawback to living in a neighborhood populated by teachers. Within a five-minute jog of our house, there were 17 teachers or principals. I could chunk a biscuit across the street and hit the homes of two of them. That lent a stability to the neighborhood and incentivized students to act like somebody when they left home.


Translation: You knew that if you cut up in class or played hooky, either Mrs. Mae Belle Frierson or Mrs. Mary Spencer was likely to walk right across the street and tell Miss Minnie on you. They did – many, many times, and within seconds of their departure my grandmother would be saying, “Boy, bring me a switch.”

Fewer students will have to worry about teachers ratting them out if a recent proposed project in Durham takes root. The State Employees Credit Union has put forth a plan to build affordable apartments for teachers and their families near the site of the former Lowe’s Grove Elementary School. The plan calls for 24 one- and two-bedroom teacher apartments.

How unassailably noble – SECU and the school system addressing the housing woes of teachers. Just spitballing, but here is another noble idea:

Instead of building affordable housing for teachers, in essence, ghetto-izing educators, why not – hold on to your abacus, Atticus – fix it so teachers can afford housing?

“Amen,” said Natalie Beyer, Durham School Board vice-chairwoman. “What are we now – 42nd in the nation in teacher pay, and enrollment in teaching colleges in our public university system is down 30 percent since 2010?... North Carolina needs to raise teacher pay and raise it across the board for young and experienced teachers.”

The project to build what should be called CUTS – Cribs for Underpaid Teachers – is already underway in other parts of the state. Pat Bryant, vice-chairman of the Buncombe County School Board, told me recently that construction on a teachers complex there is ahead of schedule because of a mild winter and could be completed by June.

When I asked Beyer if there exists the political will – you know it better as “guts” – to go to taxpayers and make the case for higher taxes so teachers can earn more money and live where they want to live, she cited a recent survey of Durham city and county residents. “There is strong commitment in the Durham community,” she said. “The larger issue is that this is the state’s responsibility. Teachers can go to every bordering state and earn more money, and they can also get a salary bump (in other states) with a graduate degree. Remember, the General Assembly took that away from them.”

Who can forget?

This may shock you, but teachers have private lives that they probably don’t want known to their co-workers. Suppose, for instance, a teacher likes lounging on the front lawn all weekend long in a pointed bustier and 6-inch stilettos, but he’s afraid of what his co-workers would say come Monday? Teachers are probably like most of us were: When they leave school, the last thing they want to see is a teacher. They should have the right to let their hair down – or take it off – without worrying about what their colleagues will say or think.

I was shocked when, at age 6, I walked into our kitchen and spied a revered teacher lifting a glass of Chivas in a toast of Christmas cheer with my aunts. She unsuccessfully tried to hide the glass.

Hers, not coincidentally, is the only class in which I ever made the honor roll, and I suspect it was because she appreciated that I kept my mouth shut about what I’d seen.

A lot of students in Durham will never get the chance to make the honor roll solely because they caught a teacher knocking one back with old friends, nor will they know the joy of having to peek out of their windows to make sure the teacher who lives next door has already left for work before they go out to shoot in the backyard hoop.

That’s because teachers who aren’t independently wealthy may find themselves living in a designated CAREWAR – Containment Area for Relocated Educators Who Ain’t Rich.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9