Locals ready to rally in Raleigh
By Sarah Campbell
Education advocates are planning to band together next month to give state lawmakers a piece of their mind about proposed funding cuts.
Parents, educators and community members from across the state will head to Raleigh on May 3 for the “One Voice” education rally in Raleigh’s bicentennial mall.
The rally, sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators, will encourage legislators to “fund schools first.”
Dr. Pam Cain, superintendent of Kannapolis City Schools, has already been urging her staff and others to attend.
“At this point we believe it’s critical for everyone to contact legislators to make them aware of how cuts are going to affect our children,” she said. “We need to implore our legislators to do what’s right for our kids.”
Kannapolis City Schools announced Monday that it will lay off 26 teachers and 61 non-certified personnel such as teacher assistants, custodians and office support to deal with an estimated $2.1 million shortfall.
Debbie Depompa, president of the Kannapolis Association of Educators, said those job cuts are even more reason for her to go to Raleigh.
“The main thing that I’m marching for is because I’m concerned about them letting the sales tax sunset when that could save jobs,” she said. “I’m not going to notice those few pennies come back to me, but I’m noticing the 19 people in my school that are being told they lost their job.”
Greg Lowe, president of the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators, said with the state facing a $2.4 billion shortfall the sales taxes should stay as is.
“We’re already paying it,” he said. “We won’t miss it.”
But N.C. Rep. Fred Steen, R-Rowan, told the Post that’s not likely to happen.
“We’re going to sunset the sales tax,” he said. “There will be no tax increases in the budget.”
Elizabeth Freeman, a parent of two children who attend Kannapolis City schools, said she’s worried about what the reductions could mean to the quality of education
“Schools are already operating on the barebone essentials right now,” she said.
Freeman said losing teacher assistants and support staff could be determental.
“My daughter is in first grade. Just imagine one person teaching a room of 18-21 six- and 7-year-old children,” she said. “Any disruption will interfere with the education she receives on a daily basis.
“They are essential, not a luxury,” she said.
Lowe said he’s also concerned about slashing assistants.
“They are priceless at what they do,” he said. “There are a lot of misconceptions …they do a lot more than grade papers.”
Lowe said groups of retired educators will head to Raleigh earlier in the day May 3 to speak with legislators about health insurance.
“We were promised free health insurance after 30 years of services and it was going until the budget crunch,” he said. “Many of our legislators think ti would be a good idea if we paid for it … we just don’t think that’s right.”
Kannapolis City Schools has been working for days to gather support for the education rally.
The school system has arranged for two activity busses to transport parents and teachers to Raleigh.
And Freeman, Parent/Teacher Organization vice-president at Forest Park, said the group is also working with people to make car pool arrangements.
The district is also hoping to partner with local churches to provide transportation to the event.
The PTO has also been out talking to local civic organizations and businesses about the possible cuts.
“We want to motivate our community and our business leaders to rally behind the schools because these children are our future work force,” Freeman said. “This is an investment in our community, that’s why they should support us as well.”
Freeman said the group has been giving presentations about how cuts will affect not only the district, but each individual school.
“I think a lot of people are surprised,” she said. “They’ve always heard about what’s happening Charlotte-Mecklenburg, but they don’t realize it’s happening at their back door, in their child’s school.
“I’m hoping that parents will understand that and listen to that and fight for our children’s needs.”
Rita Foil, public information officer with the Rowan-Salisbury School System, said the district is also working to get people to the rally.
“We strongly support their effort for our education community to reach out to our legislators urging them about the importance of funding education and the impact that proposed state budget cuts could have on our district,” she said. “Our human resources department is working with principals in support of this event so that many of our educators will be able to attend the rally while at the same time assuring that all our classrooms will be appropriately covered during their absences.”
Lowe said he’s worked with local churches to provide vans for people to take to Raleigh. And he said those who are unable to attend the event have been signing a petition in support of keeping the current sales tax.
He’s also been out spreading the word to civic groups and posting flyers at businesses throughout the county.
“We’re basically gathering support wherever we can,” he said. “Everyone is invited to attend because everyone will be affected by the cuts in public education,” there is absolutely no where you can hide and not be affected.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.