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Rally to support public education draws hundreds

Speakers at a regional rally for public education in uptown Charlotte on Saturday sent a clear message for the next election: Vote, vote, vote.

Signs with the names of lawmakers who voted for last year’s state budget with school cuts, charter schools or those who abstained from voting were lined up in Marshall Park in what was dubbed “The Walk of Shame.” Another sign labeled “We Have Not Forgotten” listed the following: cuts for school staff; how students are funded; horrible health benefits; and no pay steps.

Sponsored by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators, the event was billed as a community rally for public education, teachers, students and families.

Educators said they’re not forgetting a 2013 legislative session that brought sweeping changes to public education, including abolition of tenure and career status, and a pay scale that’s giving North Carolina a reputation as among the nation’s worst places for teachers.

Although the state once had a strong commitment to public education, “a dark storm has swept over our beautiful Carolina skies,” Mark Jewell, vice president of the N. C. Association of Educators, told a crowd of more than 100 people.

He urged educators to visit the polls in large numbers in November to give “those (legislators) who turned their backs on education a one-way ticket back home.”

Erlene Lyde, vice chair of the association, hoped the rally would send a message to the General Assembly that “we the people are engaged in this fight for support of public education in North Carolina” and that “we are not pleased with what’s being done to public education in the state.”

Gov. Pat McCrory recently announced that he’ll ask state legislators to give all teachers a 2 percent raise this year and move toward revamping the way North Carolina’s teachers are paid. But, Lyde said, “We don’t believe anything they say until it’s written in law.”

The rally included voter registration opportunities.

Pamela Grundy with Mecklenburg ACTS, a public education advocacy group, said she came to the rally because “the future of public schools depends on state leaders acting responsibly and making our schools the best. We want to encourage them to take action.”

While McCrory can suggest a pay raise for teachers “it’s the legislature that finds the money,” she said. “I think education has been a higher priority for the people than it has been with the leaders.”

Grundy saw the rally as a way for people to show that they want leaders to make education a higher priority and “put their money where their mouths are.”

Becky Snyder, president of the Mooresville Association of Educators, came to the rally because, “I care about the future of schools.

“My kids will grow up one day, and I want them to stay in North Carolina,” she said. “ Students will one day be the leaders of our community. We need to remember that to have great leaders we need great schools.”

Stephanie Spivey, a teacher at Charlotte’s Northeast Middle School, held a banner reading “Bring Back Our Girls,” which referred to the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last month by Islamist rebels in an attack condemned around the world.

With Spivey were Northeast students being mentored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority – Dejia Neely, 13, and Rachel Williams, 12.

Spivey wanted to show support for public education and “hold legislators accountable.”

Andrew Shimko, 26, a science teacher at Independence High School, said he works weekends at Lowe’s Home Improvement and switched his Saturday shift to Sunday so he could attend the rally. Now in his second year of teaching, Shimko said, “I care about North Carolina and public education. I want to do my part to save and improve the system.”

Sixteen-year-old Angel Boulware, junior class president at West Mecklenburg High School, said she’d once considered a teaching career, but was now leaning toward becoming a psychologist or journalist. Boulware made that decision after seeing how several teachers struggled to survive by working other jobs.

But it’s not final. If state legislators do a better job at supporting public education, “I’ll definitely change my mind,” Boulware said.