Mecklenburg teachers packed the county commissioners’ chambers Tuesday to speak on education funding, but were told within minutes that they would not be heard.
Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller told the overflow crowd that anyone wishing to discuss education funding, share any “personal advocacies” or speak for or against any budget request would not do so Tuesday night.
“June 11 at 6 p.m.,” Fuller said. “That’s the time when the public will have its opportunity to provide comments to the board.”
With that, a ripple of annoyance ran through the crowd, as several groups of teachers in their school colors got up and emptied the chamber in a matter of minutes.
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Tuesday’s meeting was the first since Mecklenburg County manager Dena Diorio proposed a budget that does not include the 3 percent raise for teachers and staff that Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Heath Morrison and the school board asked for.
Several teachers were under the impression they would be able to speak about education funding and teacher compensation indirectly Tuesday, as many teachers did at last month’s commissioners meeting as county staff were preparing the budget. At that meeting, teachers, parents and students talked about the impact teachers have had in students’ lives and how teachers have felt pressure to leave for higher-paying jobs in other states or leave the profession altogether.
“We set a special time aside because otherwise, every meeting we have would be taken up with people having budget requests,” Fuller said Tuesday, as the majority of the audience retreated back up the stairs and out of the room.
One Charlotte resident spoke during the public appearance session of the meeting but on a topic unrelated to education funding. Fuller said others had signed up to speak about education budgets and compensation, but were notified before Tuesday night’s meeting that they would not be able to do so until June 11.
Teachers flooded the lobby after Fuller’s announcement, angry that they were not given the chance to speak. Several were unaware of the June 11 meeting.
“We thought we would be able to speak today, but if not, why bother being in there?” asked Paige Anderson, a fifth-grade teacher at Greenway Park Elementary School. “They were obviously ignoring what teachers have to say. What’s the point in staying if they’re not going to hear us?”
Fuller said after the meeting that he was unaware teachers planned to speak that night and did not know who they were when the meeting began.
Earlier this week, Morrison voiced similar concerns regarding education funding to a group of elected officials and community activists, saying both state and county governments can and should do more to support public education.
“We’re going to have to get local leaders and state leaders in a room and fight out who’s really responsible,” Morrison said at the Tuesday Breakfast Forum. “I have an issue when I hear our local leaders say, ‘It’s not our responsibility.’ ”
But Eric Fatzinger, a seventh-grade teacher at Piedmont Middle School, was not discouraged after Tuesday night’s meeting. Instead, he said he and his coworkers will be back on June 11 to voice their concerns.
“They need to understand that education is important,” Fantzinger said. “Not talking about it one night won’t keep us away.”