Rowan-Salisbury school board approves teacher workday May 16 because of statewide teachers’ rally

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 11, 2018

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has declared next Wednesday an optional teacher workday after more than 300 staff members requested leave in order to attend a rally in Raleigh.

There will be no makeup day.

The rally will call for the state legislature to raise teacher pay and improve working conditions for teachers. As of Thursday, at least 19 school districts across the state have decided to suspend classes on Wednesday.

“There’s been an increasing number of school districts across the state who are making this decision,” RSS Superintendent Lynn Moody said.

Many are districts bordering Rowan-Salisbury, including Cabarrus County, Iredell-Statesville, Mooresville, Kannapolis and Lexington City.

By the end of the day Thursday, roughly 302 staff members had requested leave on Wednesday. But Moody said that principals have more requests waiting on their desks.

“We know that the number is higher than that,” she said.

While not all those requesting leave are classroom teachers, the number is still high enough that more than 180 classrooms would be without a teacher or a substitute that day.

“We have serious safety concerns for our students and how we would be able to serve them on the day with the number of requests,” Moody said.

Declaring the day an optional workday allows teachers to use annual or personal leave if they want to attend the rally. On regular school days, teachers may request only personal leave.

The schools nutrition department will run on Wednesday, making its usual stops. AP exams scheduled that day would still be given, as most are held off campus. Two field trips are scheduled for the day — one at West Rowan High School and one at North Rowan Elementary. Both would continue as scheduled.

“We have teachers there that have agreed to cover those field trips,” Moody said.

Sports games will take place as usual. Rowan County Early College will have a regular school day, as the school’s final exams are scheduled May 17.

Board member Richard Miller asked if something would be available for classified staff — teacher assistants, bus drivers and food service workers — who are paid only for days students are in school.

“I certainly want to encourage our employees to exercise their constitutional and state rights … but I do not want (staff) to be penalized,” Miller said.

Moody said that classified staff would be given work or professional development options.

“So we have activities planned for all employees for that day,” she said.

Board member Dean Hunter was unable to make Thursday’s meeting but sent written comments, which were read by Chairman Josh Wagner.

Hunter said that while he believes “no teacher will ever be paid what they are worth” next week’s rally is “more about politics than it is about education.”

Board member Jean Kennedy disagreed with Hunter. The rally, she said, might be organized by teacher unions, but very few Rowan-Salisbury teachers are union members. From her viewpoint, Rowan County teachers attending the rally would not be going to support unions but because they want to be heard.

“I don’t even think that we need to look at the political aspect. But simply that these individuals have a voice, that they deserve to be heard. … How do teachers differ from anybody else?” Kennedy said.

Board member Travis Allen chimed in his agreement. Allen, an investigator with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, said he, too, understands the frustrations and limits of a tax-funded career. He said he, too, has often felt unable to speak up or protest changes, cuts or policies.

“I’ll vote in favor of giving the teachers the day, simply because I think it gives them a sense of power in their personal self,” he said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Susan Cox said she found herself torn over the issue. As a former teacher, she wants to side with her colleagues, but as a board member, her duty is to students.

“… There are no good options in this situation,” Cox said. “This has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make while being on this board.”

Instead of supporting making Wednesday an optional workday, Cox urged teachers who could get leave and find a substitute to attend the rally but asked that those who couldn’t stay on the job and look after their students.

Kennedy, however, said she fully favors the move but made a plea to teachers to use the day for advocacy, not vacation.

“I’m proud of them,” she said. “I just want them to be true professionals and to be in Raleigh.”

Board member Alisha Byrd also voiced her support.

“We all know that we should support our students no matter what, and I think the same goes for teachers,” Byrd said.

Miller countered a comment that the teaching field and education have improved recently in North Carolina.

“All the things that have enhanced the profession or make it better have been taken away,” Miller said.

In the past four to eight years, Miller said, he’s seen teacher retirement plans being undercut, the Teaching Fellows scholarship shut down, teacher academies underfunded and, most recently, legislators mandating smaller class sizes without providing the funding.

“So please don’t insult my intelligence … of trying to convince me that the last four years of a legislature has done anything but dismantle public education,” Miller said.

Miller made a motion to approve the optional teacher workday, and Kennedy seconded it. Before calling for the vote, Wagner added his comments.

Wagner said he did not favor the move and is concerned that a lot of the fall-out from taking a day off would be on students — many of whom would struggle to find food, transportation or care during the day. But he acknowledged that it is a complex issue.

“This has been tough. … I don’t think it’s a black-and-white issue; it’s a very gray issue,” he said.

Moody, too, acknowledged the difficulties it will place on students and families.

“Many of us have thought this week that this was a lose-lose, no matter which way they voted,” she said.

The measure passed, 4-2, with Cox and Wagner voting against it.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.