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Educators, activists stage ‘bag of coal’ protest in Charlotte

Charlotte educators and community activists used the holiday season Wednesday to stage some political theater, with “Santa” delivering a bag of coal for the governor while the crowd sang revised Christmas carols.

“We’re shakin’ our fist, we’re payin’ the price. We’re givin’ you coal – you’re not very nice. The teachers are coming to town,” about 20 adults and children sang to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The event was organized by Hollie Blake, who said she is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher assistant, and Robert Corriher, a community organizer who worked with Charlotte’s Moral Monday protests this summer. Among the issues they cited were stagnant teacher pay and cuts to public education in the 2013-14 budget bill, including phasing out tenure, eliminating extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees, cutting teacher assistant jobs and creating a voucher program to subsidize private-school tuition for low-income families.

Blake said the event originated when teachers at her school started talking about ways to get active. She would not name that school, saying she was “told not to.” She also declined to say who told her not to identify the school.

Blake said she and her colleagues blame Republican legislators as much as Gov. Pat McCrory, but targeted him because he represents the party and has an office in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, where the group gathered.

Ryan Tronovich, McCrory’s deputy communications director, called the event “an attempt by Moral Monday protesters to get free publicity.”

“If these protesters did their homework, they would have seen that Governor McCrory is working hard to reward our hard-working teachers,” Tronovich said. He noted that McCrory’s budget proposal included a 1 percent raise for teachers and that McCrory has reconvened the state Education Cabinet and created a teacher advisory committee.

“Governor McCrory is proposing solutions to reduce the burdensome testing requirements for teachers and students so teachers can actually teach and do their job,” Tronovich added.

Superintendent Heath Morrison said Wednesday that he understands employees’ frustration with low pay and other conditions in the budget, but he noted that McCrory’s budget proposal was the only one that contained a raise. And he noted that both political parties have contributed to North Carolina’s decline in national teacher-pay rankings.

“It’s about everybody saying, ‘This is unacceptable’ and coming together to fix it,” Morrison said.

He said CMS employees will not get in trouble for participating in the protest: “People have an option to exercise their freedom of speech.”

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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