PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to improve student learning conditions at its meeting Monday night, as requested of local boards across the state by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).
Among other items, the resolution — labeled as nonpartisan — calls for an increase in per-student spending, a $15 minimum base pay for all North Carolina school workers and more funding for districts to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and instructional assistants.
The item was presented by Chairperson Gary Leonard, a retired CCS educator who worked in education for 33 years and joined the board in 2010. Board member David Hamm worked at CCS for 28 years as an educator and has served on the board of education since 2008.
“Mr. Hamm and I need to make sure we preface this because we’re both retirees of North Carolina, and one of the things is to increase our retirement formulas,” Leonard said of a stipulation within the resolution. “We like all the other things in there so we just want to make sure that everybody understands what we’re hoping to improve — public education.”
The resolution urges legislators to co-sponsor and vote for legislation that reforms the salary scale to provide a 5% salary increase and subsequent cost of living adjustments for active and retired educators.
“Another point is that this is a resolution from the State Teachers Association that has been in the hands of the legislators for some time. People have supported this and because we didn’t support it publicly didn’t mean that we weren’t supporting our teachers,” Hamm said. “We did not want that to be a perception. And like Gary said, Gary and I are not voting with this to make sure we have a cost of living increase to our retirements — that’s more tongue in cheek than it is seriousness. But yes, everything on that resolution are things that are long, long, long overdue.”
The resolution was sent to legislators several months ago, and board members said Chatham General Assembly representatives Robert Reives II and Valerie Foushee have expressed support for it. School boards across the state have also approved the resolution. In addition to the above items, the resolution also calls for:
• Approval of a statewide K-12 school construction and renovation bond that provides local education agencies with much-needed funds
• Restoring state health care benefits for school workers who retire after “a lifetime of service to our students”
• Expanding funding for broadband, high-speed internet in the state, with an emphasis on rural, lower-income, and communities of color
• Freezing funding for the North Carolina private school voucher program at current levels until the other resolution policy objectives are achieved
Members of the Chatham County Association of Educators also supported this resolution, Leonard said, noting it would send a “powerful message” to state legislators and to Gov. Roy Cooper.
In North Carolina, starting teacher pay is 47th out of 50 states and 33rd in average teacher pay, according to the National Education Association. Last month, state Senate leaders presented a budget spending proposal that would slash corporate taxes and award public school teachers with a 1.5% raise.
North Carolina spent $2,866 less per student than the national average for the 2019-2020 school year, the resolution said, citing a NEA report.
“We’ve got to keep our legislators — we’ve gotta stay on their backs,” Hamm said of the resolution.
The meeting began with Superintendent Anthony Jackson, who started the role July 6, taking an oath of office for superintendent.
“We’ll start right off with our welcoming Dr. Jackson to Chatham County,” Leonard said. “Of course, he’s already hit the ground running.”
The board also approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chatham County Public Health Dept. and a Memorandum of Agreement for a Chatham 250 Los Jets Exhibit.
CCS has a longstanding relationship with the health department, the district said, including the department’s funding of two nurse positions and an Instructional Program Facilitator position. That funding will continue into this school year.
That MOU was updated to add language pertaining to COVID-19 in two places.
The Chatham 250 Los Jets exhibit is a part of the county’s anniversary plans for this year, specifically celebrating the history of Jordan-Matthews High School’s Los Jets soccer team. The county will create a mobile exhibit to share the team’s story; the district will allow the exhibit to be presented as agreed-upon schools next fall.
The board did not explicitly discuss COVID-19 protocol next fall, but it did approve a motion lifting the suspension of field trips, after school activities, facility rentals, and school access for visitors and volunteers. Those suspensions were put in place in spring 2020 in response to COVID-19.
The meeting began with public comments from parents calling on the school board to make mask-wearing optional for CCS students next fall. Currently, universal mask-wearing is still required in schools, though Gov. Cooper said last week he expected to issue an updated recommendation soon, following CDC guidance saying masks should be optional for fully vaccinated individuals.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics joined the CDC in calling for in-person learning to fully resume, but departed from the institution in saying that universal masking should be part of a “layered approach to make school safe for all students, teachers and staff.” This guidance comes as the Delta variant spreads and as it remains uncertain when students 12 and under will be able to be vaccinated.
While COVID-19 data suggests young children are less likely to get COVID-19 and to spread it, epidemiologists have long cited mask-wearing as an essential protection against spread of infection among unvaccinated people. Early data also suggests the Delta variant is more contagious than other strains.
“Our children need to get unmasked, OK, if not, if you do not unmask our children, you better come up with some money to help provide for them in the future for their social, emotional and mental stress that they’re going to have in the future,” said one speaker, Edie Jacomet, “because they will — they will, mark my words, so I’m just asking you, please unmask our children.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.
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