Politician addresses proposed school cuts
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 5, 2013 1:46 PM
Bob Etheridge speaks at a press conference that he and Public Schools First NC organized at Mina Weil Park Tuesday. Goldsboro was the 11th stop for the group, which hopes to raise awareness on school changes.
Former congressman and state education superintendent Bob Etheridge held a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Goldsboro, his 11th stop on a statewide tour, but he wasn't campaigning for himself.
He is on a mission to draw attention to the plight of public schools -- as legislators move to remove the cap on class size, to cut pre-k programs and to reduce the number of teaching assistants.
"When it comes to public education, the politicians now in control of our state government really are betraying our state's legacy," he said during his stop at Mina Weil Park.
Armed with heavy cardboard placards for supporters bearing such messages as "Protect Our Classrooms" and "Public Schools Matter," Etheridge also produced a gold school bell to illustrate the need to "wake folks up."
"Children don't know what they need. They only know what they get," Etheridge said. "They don't get a vote. It's our responsibility to sound the alarm.
"The problem is more than money. There's so many scary ideas coming out of Raleigh."
He said some of the more "extreme legislators" favor giving vouchers to parents, diverting students away from public schools, a move that provides "nothing more than false hope."
"Lawmakers want to jam students into classrooms like cattle," he said.
Lashaundon Smith Perkins, mother of three children in Wayne County Public Schools, said she believes in public education and the opportunities it provides. But she is worried.
"I have seen firsthand how school resources like textbooks and supplies have dwindled over the years," she said.
She said she is also concerned about the threat to relax limits on class size and how the loss of teacher assistants will affect the children.
"And I worry that if we don't protect our schools, North Carolina won't be an attractive place for others like me to work and live," she said.
Glenda Crocker, a first-grade teacher at Grantham School and this year's Teacher of the Year for the district, has been in the profession for 32 years. She said she has seen the state's commitment to public education over the years, but believes the trend is reversing.
"I am, as are so many others, deeply concerned at the backward movement the state is considering taking this year," she said. "Teachers today have more and more responsibilities and are expected to produce results and get good test scores."
She said many teachers, lacking the necessary resources, often dip into their own pockets to provide them. They are also tasked with testing students several times during the school year, taking away valuable time from the classroom. Teacher assistants play a vital role in the educational process.
"This is not the time to take away teacher assistants," she said.
Phyllis Edgerton, a preschool teacher for 32 years, said she has worked in early intervention programs for the entire county, including establishing a strong working relationship with The Partnership for Children of Wayne County. That agency, she said, has been the victim of many state cuts to the preschool program and stands to lose even more.
"My goal is just to continue providing services, but I want to go forward, not backward," she said.
"It's shameful thinking this General Assembly is trying to turn the clock back," Etheridge said. "It's not just about these children. It's about the next generation."
He said he is uncertain how many more stops he will schedule around the state. Organizers of his campaign said they have collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition against eliminating the cap on class size, which will be delivered to Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday.