Education advocates gather in Haywood County
Among the nearly 100 people in attendance at the Stand Up For Education rally Monday evening was a father and son duo, both science teachers at Tuscola High School.
Steve Atwood and his son, Daniel, have 38 years of teaching experience between the two of them; yet during these last few years, they have felt the effects of spending reductions both in and out of the classroom.
“I don’t hold anyone locally responsible,” Daniel said. “The school is doing everything they can. The administration is having to make tough choices.”
Haywood County officials are working with a budget that is $787,674 less than what the school system received last year — numbers that translate into a reality of larger class sizes, cuts in school material funding and low teacher salaries.
Daniel, for example, has been teaching for six years and still receives a beginning teacher’s salary. His wife, Brooke, is also a teacher. She works with exceptional children at Jonathan Valley Elementary. The couple has to supplement their income with second jobs.
“We didn’t get in this profession to get rich, but it does get tough sometimes,” Daniel said.
Inside the classroom, Steve, who has been teaching for 32 years, has seen the cap on class sizes rise as well as the elimination of higher-level courses as teachers work to cover more ground.
“This year, we’re dealing with larger classes with 30-plus students, as well as advanced programs being cut so we can cover the ‘just have to’ classes,” he said.
These issues pointed out by the Atwoods were all emphasized during the Stand Up For Education rally, organized by the Haywood County Democratic Party.
The event included speeches by N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, Haywood County Commissioner Bill Upton and Boyce Deitz, a retired high school football coach and past president of the N.C. Athletic Directors Association. The crowd, many of whom wore red to demonstrate solidarity with public school teachers, also held signs that read, “Only students should profit from education,” “Fund our TAs,” “Dumb legislators devalue education” and “Cut budget for war, not education.”
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory points to the $7.87 billion budget as the largest K-12 budget in North Carolina’s history. The education budget for 2012-13 included $7.51 billion for K-12 public schools; however, critics argue that the 4.8 percent increase in this year’s budget is not enough to keep up with student enrollment as well as inflation levels.
According to data collected by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, average daily membership for the 2012-13 school year was 1,492,793 students (grades K through 12); this year, projected student membership totals sit at 1,509,925.
These numbers were especially troubling to Rep. Queen, who said at the rally that as per student funding is lowered, North Carolina will continue to slide “backwards.”
“Education is the key to job growth and the key to economic development,” he said. “Our children’s future hangs in the balance.”
Monday’s rally attracted teachers from outside Haywood County, as well. Dan Kowal, an ESL teacher in Macon County, is especially passionate about the reductions in teacher assistant funding.
"We need TAs," he said. "[In Macon County] we're dealing with one adult for 22 kindergarteners for half of the day. We have a great community of teachers, but Raleigh holds the purse strings, and they're setting up schools to fail."
Janie Benson, chair of the Haywood County Democratic Party and a former early childhood development teacher, said the organization will continue to spread the word about what she called a "reversal in education."
"We will do whatever is necessary to get the message across," she said. "Haywood County has always tried to take care of our children — this is a new day."