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Steinburg: Some teacher concerns valid

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Cynthia Dick, an 8th grade language arts teacher, marches toward the Legislative Building in Raleigh, Wednesday. Dick was among the hundreds of eastern North Carolina educators taking part in Wednesday's massive rally in Raleigh for higher teacher pay and more school funding. The Albemarle's two Republican lawmakers had different reactions to the rally.

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From staff, wire reports

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Two of the region’s representatives in the Legislature had widely differing reactions to the massive teacher protest in Raleigh on Wednesday. 

State Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, seemed skeptical of those taking part in the march and rally at the Legislative Building to demand higher pay for teachers and more funding the classroom.

State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, however, called some of the teachers’ concerns about pay “valid” and claimed he had “fun” talking with a number of them.

According to The Associated Press, Cook said after Wednesday’s 30-minute opening of the state legislature’s annual session he thinks the teachers are caught up in a national movement after demonstrations in West Virginia, Arizona and elsewhere. No school districts in Cook’s eight-county Outer Banks region canceled classes for the rally, the AP noted.

Cook says he thinks the rally is more about supporting the Democratic Party in a political season than economic upset. He says he thinks teachers know the legislature is on the right track with five years of salary raises and merit-based bonuses.

Steinburg said in an interview Wednesday evening he enjoyed being visited by groups of teachers from Chowan, Pasquotank, Currituck and Tyrrell counties.

“It was really fun,” Steinburg said. “It was fun talking with them all.”

Steinburg, who is seeking the 1st District Senate seat and will face Washington County Democrat Cole Phelps in the November election, said one of the concerns he heard most from teachers who visited his office Wednesday was that experienced teachers had not benefited as much from salary increases in recent years as improvements have been made to starting salaries.

Steinburg said lawmakers’ decision to focus on starting pay was deliberate because the state's pay for entry-level teachers had fallen to a point where it wasn't competitive with other states.

But now there needs to be some effort to make the salary structure fairer to experienced teachers, he said.

“I think their concerns are valid,” Steinburg said.

Not all the discussion was about salaries.

Steinburg said some teachers mentioned outdated or worn-out textbooks and others expressed concern about the condition of some school buildings in their local district. Many school buildings in rural districts do need to be updated, Steinburg said.

And funding for rural school districts is a problem the state needs to address, Steinburg said.

Steinburg said the current funding formula based on average daily membership or “ADM” does not work in the current situation in which rural counties are losing population. Some costs do fluctuate based on the number of students the schools serve but other costs are fixed and “the schools still have to function” even if they have fewer students, Steinburg said.

“We've got to find a better way to fund our rural schools,” Steinburg said. “This ADM formula is antiquated and doesn't work anymore. It worked 20 years ago but it doesn't work any longer.”

Steinburg said that while some teachers agree with Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal to roll back corporate tax cuts as a way to pay for raises and education funding, the tax cuts will go forward as scheduled and the legislature will continue to reduce the corporate tax rate and personal income tax rates.

“That's not going to happen,” Steinburg said of proposals to roll back tax cuts. “It's off the table.”

Steinburg said the economy is growing and the tax cuts are helping businesses to grow.

“But we recognize the importance of our teachers and all of our state employees,” Steinburg said.

Although a number of school districts in the state – including Pitt County and urban districts such as Wake — closed Wednesday because of teacher absences related to the rally in Raleigh, the event appeared to have minimal effect on school operations in the Albemarle.

The Perquimans County Schools reported that just one of their 130 teachers took a personal day off on Wednesday. Perquimans Schools spokeswoman Lisa Lane said she understands the teacher attended the rally in Raleigh.

Seven teachers were absent from the Camden County Schools Wednesday but it was not clear whether any attended the rally. Camden Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell said the number of absences was about average.

Currituck school officials said 40 teachers attended the rally. The Edenton-Chowan Schools reported six teachers attended.

Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, whose district includes much of Pasquotank County, noted that tens of thousands of teachers turned out for the event.

“They even chanted during session, ‘remember, remember, we vote in November,’” Hunter said.

Hunter said teachers from Pasquotank and Hertford counties visited his office Wednesday.

“Some of their concerns were classroom size, teacher assistants, funding and raises, textbooks and broadband, money or reimbursements for supplies, supplement pay from counties, longevity, licensure requirements,” Hunter said.

Hunter said he enjoyed the first official day back at the General Assembly and stands with teachers.

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