Tomorrow is the opening day of the General Assembly and the day teachers across North Carolina are planning to take personal leave to go to Raleigh to protest the cuts to education that have occurred over the past few years. Their message is a worthy one.
According to the National Education Association, N.C. ranks 39th in the state in per-student funding. This is at a time when the state is experiencing budget surpluses. Teachers are also asking for the restoration of rewarding advanced degrees and the return of longevity pay. When adjusted for inflation, N.C. teachers’ salaries have decreased 9.4 percent since 2009 with teachers at the highest end of the pay scale basically flat-lined for the past few years.
Young people considering their career choices are taking note. It is a sad reality that enrollment in education programs at our colleges and universities is at an all-time low. If you are concerned about the future of education, you should be.
Another request is for the General Assembly to increase the number of school nurses, counselors, social workers and other support personnel. With the increase of mental illness and the recent school shootings, I do not believe anyone would argue that need.
The vast majority of Richmond County teachers will be in their classrooms tomorrow. In spite of their unhappiness with the education budget, they labor on. They plan lessons, teach children, develop relationships, and often serve as the only role model in the lives of some of our students. They work beyond the school day chaperoning clubs, coaching sports, directing bands and choruses, sponsoring art shows, and attending sporting events, all to provide opportunities and support for our children they may not have otherwise. They also spend their money in their classrooms purchasing supplies the district cannot fund. They buy coats in the winter, toys at Christmas, and provide snacks on a regular basis for some kids who are hungry. Our teachers make a difference because that is what good teachers do.
Last week we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. Many of you took a moment to thank your child’s teacher — perhaps even sent a card or a treat. However, it is important that we show our appreciation every day. Tomorrow you will most likely see teachers wearing red T-shirts in support of the requests the teachers are making. I hope you will join me in letting our teachers know how valuable they are. This is important tomorrow, but it is also important to keep the conversation going beyond tomorrow.
You allow us the privilege every day of entrusting us with the most precious thing in your lives. Please help us keep quality teachers in our classrooms.
Cindy Goodman is superintendent of Richmond County Schools.