10/25/13 — Forum eyes education across state

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Forum eyes education across state

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 25, 2013 1:46 PM

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Seth Mabry

Wayne County Board of Education member Dr. Dwight Cannon answers a question from the audience during an education forum at Goldsboro High School.

A grassroots effort to improve education in North Carolina drew a small crowd Thursday night, but there are larger efforts in the offing -- including suing the General Assembly and bringing Moral Monday to Goldsboro.

"Educate Each Child" was the theme of the event held at Goldsboro High School Thursday. Sponsored by the Wayne County Association of Educators, in collaboration with the N.C. Association of Educators and two advocacy groups, Public Schools First N.C. and Progress NC, the forum was part of a state tour rallying for a better education system.

And while fewer than three dozen people turned out locally, the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, promised a continued push for the cause.

He said recent moves at the legislative level -- budget cuts and reduction in the teaching workforce among them -- are going against everything that has made education in the state strong. Calling the General Assembly's antics "an outright unconstitutional violation," he said more public outcries are important.

There are plans to bring a Moral Monday protest to Goldsboro in January, he said.

"We have already done 21 different stops already," he said. "We have got to say to these legislators, 'You can't go home and hide.'"

Barber said the NAACP is actively working with progressive groups to do even more.

"We plan to sue this General Assembly," he said. "The policies that they have introduced that are violating our constitution -- that's where we are, that's the conversation."

The frustration has been felt by educators as well as communities, said Paige McCullough of Public Schools First.

"Public dollars should stay in public schools," she said. "We are all worried about what we see going on in North Carolina today. We have been struggling to provide this education for 145 years. We know what it takes to do the job."

She rattled off just a few of the things her group sees as priorities to ensure an excellent educational environment -- smaller class sizes, teaching assistants to provide individual attention and a full curriculum.

"We are not trying to raise test-takers. We need to raise citizens," she said. "And we need to provide a safe environment."

She said every child deserves to acquire the tools and skills to become successful, but wondered whether teachers are getting what they need to provide that. North Carolina, she pointed out, is 48th in per pupil funding.

"Every state around us is getting more, so is every child getting what they need?" she said. "I don't think so.

"There's more and more kids and less and less to help them succeed. And our children are paying the price."

She said there are 2,500 fewer slots for pre-K programs this year in the state, along with cuts to textbooks, technology and instructional supplies, with budget cuts also slicing the English-as-a-Second-Language program in half. Another threat to the schools is the vouchers program, she said, which have the potential to pull $11 million from public school funds for private and religious school tuition.

Kathy Drew, a fourth-grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School, said she feels the strain of the budget cuts. When there isn't enough funding for some supplies, she admits she has reached into her own pocket to provide for her students.

"Sometimes that's just not good enough," she said. "We need some support from the outside, so our students can have the resources that they need to bring them to the 21st century.

"We have got to do what we need to do to put education first for our students. They're worth it."

She said she would like to challenge legislators to walk a mile in her shoes, taking the time to actually see firsthand what many teachers like her do on a daily basis.

But so far, she and others said, legislators have not taken that approach and therefore have no concept about what those on the frontline are doing.

Dr. Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services, does understand. His role is to replenish the teaching pool and to hire educators for the district.

With teaching shortages a constant battle, McCoy said here are several "critical needs" areas, especially in the area of exceptional children, but budget and personnel cuts are not making it easy to entice educators.

"It's just not there," he said. "But we're constantly recruiting. Recruiting used to be done in the February, March, April, May time frame. Now, recruiting is year-round."

Wayne County has been able to maintain in part because some educators have chosen to stay on longer.

"Those that could retire, if they were to retire, I would lose half of my teaching force," he said. "With 1,250-plus it creates a tremendous challenge for many. ... But for the state that's No. 46 (in teacher pay), no pay raise in sight, if you get your master's, they're not going to pay you on that level. It's very challenging for me to go to other states to recruit."