WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – A large group of public teachers and supporters rallied on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Wilmington Tuesday morning to draw attention to what they consider the General Assembly's attack on traditional public education.
The demonstrators wore red shirts and held signs to protest recent legislative action that they say adversely affects public education.
In a press release, Progress NC, which helped organize the event, said the rally was intended to "hold lawmakers accountable for what they did to public education this year" and to "not let them get away with deliberately misleading talking points designed to fool the public."
The $21 billion state budget gives public schools $117 million less than what they would have had if lawmakers changed nothing and accounted for increased enrollment and inflation. Republican lawmakers counter that they increased education spending by $360 million over last year.
Critics said the budget is a blow to teaching in a state that already offers some of the country's lowest salaries. Along with no pay raises, critics contend, the budget brings less job security for teachers, the end of extra pay for graduate degrees, and less classroom help with small children. The budget eliminated funding for about 3,800 teaching assistant jobs.
Speakers at the rally included Nick Rhodes, a former member of the New Hanover County Board of Education, who accused the legislature of wanting to privatize public education. That sentiment was echoed by Dallas Brown, a business teacher at Laney High School and president of the New Hanover Association of Educators.
"I think their goal is to privatize public education because it is a tremendous money making opportunity, and if someone can take it away from the public and give it to the private sector, that's always been the GOP's agenda," Brown said.
Jennifer Sugerik, who teaches music at Ashley High School, said she makes about $45,000 after 23 years working in public education. She is upset that teachers are not receiving the pay outlined in the state salary schedule, which includes annual pay increases for experienced teachers.
"We're not the highest paid people in the world," she said. "Maybe someone who makes a whole lot of money should be taking a little bit of that hit more than our public school teachers."
Elizabeth Redenbaugh, another former New Hanover County School Board member, said that the General Assembly has put North Carolina on a race to the bottom. She challenged the protestors to share their concerns with legislators.
Brown said that the voting booth offers supporters of public education a venue to influence legislators.
"Those folks came in with an agenda and they stuck to their agenda, however, election time is coming around and we'll get an opportunity to have our voice heard then," he said.
Copyright 2013 WECT. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.