North Carolina educators are seeing red over drastic cuts to the state's public school education budget that are currently under consideration. When legislators return to Raleigh this week for the new session of the General Assembly, the educators want them to start seeing red too. In a coordinated statement of opposition to the proposed cuts, teachers and public school employees across the state plan to wear red to work this week.
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) called for educators to wear red on Wednesday, Jan. 26, the first day of the legislative session, to send a clear message to lawmakers that they need to keep their promises not to cut classroom funding. The state is facing a budget shortfall of more than $3.8 billion, but many legislators, including Speaker Thom Tillis (R), have pledged not to cut education.
Locally, the action is being organized by the Macon County Association of Educators (MCAE). Because of impending weather, the group is asking school employees in the county to wear red on Thursday, Jan. 27, instead.
“We are wearing red to show our state leaders that students are counting on them to keep their promise not to cut classroom funding,” explained Rena Sutton, MCAE secretary. “Our schools have already suffered over $1 billion in cuts in the past two years and thousands of teachers have lost their jobs. It needs to stop or they will hurt our children’s futures.”
In Macon County, the school system has already vacated all nonessential personnel positions through consolidation or attrition, with nearly 20 teaching or administrative positions having been eliminated in the last two years. Art budgets have been slashed and programs eliminated. In addition, the county has closed or consolidated a number of facilities in the last year, including the closing of Cullasaja School and the consolidation of Iotla and Cowee schools. But Superintendent Dan Brigman says additional measures will be necessary when the state budget shrinks next year.
While the district has been preparing to lose $2.4 million in Federal Stabilization and Stimulus funds which are set to expire on June 30, 2011, the system will not be able to absorb additional cuts of 5 to 10 percent from the state budget as has been proposed without drastic measures, Brigman said. The cuts would be equivalent to an additional loss for the county of as much as $2.3 million.
“If the state cuts further, we’re going to be looking at people and programs,” Brigman said, noting that districts across the state are now examining worst case scenario options, including the elimination of athletic programs, the elimination of bussing and transportation services and other across the board reductions.
The special display of unity by the red wearing educators will be documented in photographs which are to be sent to lawmakers as “photo petitions” against proposed cuts the state’s public education budget. “We hope to have hundreds of photo petitions reaching members of the General Assembly throughout the session,” said MCAE president Shelley Marshall.
According to a MCAE press release, the message will be for legislators to keep their promises of supporting education in the state. The photos will include signs that say, “Put children first! Support public education.” Wearing the color red, the press release reads, will symbolize “our unity in the fight to preserve public education funding, and to allay proposed budget cuts that will devastate learning opportunities and hurt children.”
The statewide NCAE will post a “Wear Red” page on its website www.ncae.org. The photo petitions will be posted on the webpage for legislators and others to view.
School board approves new criteria for substitute teachers
Since the economic downturn, the number of people who sign up with the Macon County school system to be substitute teachers has exploded. According to Dan Moore, personnel director for the school district, the list has swelled to over 400 individuals.
The high numbers have become a burden for Moore’s office. “It creates an immense amount of paperwork,” he said.
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, new criteria for substitutes was approved unanimously. Moore told the board that all individuals who have not been used to substitute at least three times over the last year will be “purged” from the list.
All new applicants and individuals who are taken off the list, but who wish to reapply, will be required to take an online training course and assessment before becoming certified to substitute in county schools. The course, offered by Utah State University, costs $39.95 and takes approximately 8 to 12 hours to complete. Individuals must get a composite score of 85 percent on the online assessment to become certified.
Non-certified individuals who remain on the list will have one year to take the course. Individuals who hold a current teaching license in the state of North Carolina or in a state having a “reciprocity agreement” with North Carolina will be exempt from the certification program. Similarly, individuals who have completed the “Effective Teacher Training” program at Southwestern Community College or who are student teachers in Macon County will also be exempt.
In the past, Macon County had required substitutes to take the Effective Teacher Training program, but at some point that requirement had been dropped. Moore said that the main problem with the SCC program had been scheduling restraints, but with the online program, applicants will be able to take the course at any time.
Moore speculated that the economy was one reason for the increase in applicants in recent years. “I hate to say it, but some are doing it just so that they can file unemployment on us two weeks later,” he remarked.
Moore said that there are also liability issues that behoove the district to require at least basic training for its substitutes.
School facilities update
Architect Mike Watson updated the board on current capital outlay projects at the county’s school facilities. He noted that a portion of the foundation pad at the new Iotla Valley School had been completed but that work had stopped in recent weeks due to the weather conditions. Watson also reported on progress with renovations at Franklin High School, saying that the project should be completed within two weeks.
Board Chairman Tommy Cabe and Superintendent Dan Brigman recognized the winners of the 2010 Christmas Card Contest and presented each student with a certificate.
“Each year we have a very special event in the school system,” Brigman said. “Instead of buying a Christmas card or a Season’s Greetings card, we capitalize on the expertise among our student body.”
Brigman explained that in 2010 there were multiple contributors to the yearly Christmas card. Six students were recognized for their designs. The Christmas cards are distributed to every school board and every superintendent in the state of North Carolina.
The board also recognized Kim Ensley who in 2010 received the award for North Carolina Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year from the North Carolina Association for Physical Education.
Finally, Yvonne Robinson was recognized for her achievement as the 2010 North Carolina Middle School Health Educator of the Year.