Facing commissioners, teachers told they can’t talk about pay raises

Hundreds of teachers, principals and parents crammed into the Mecklenburg County commissioners meeting Wednesday to advocate for higher teacher pay.

Before they could, board Chairman Trevor Fuller told them that by county rules they couldn’t discuss budget issues on Wednesday. That’s reserved for June 11, when commissioners will hear from a variety of groups asking for money in the 2014-2015 budget.

Fuller’s refusal to bend the rules met with a round of disapproval. Sonya Gilbert, a parent, had brought her daughter and three other students from Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology to speak about raising teacher pay.

But Fuller wouldn’t relent, explaining if he allowed teachers to speak on budget matters, he’d have to allow it for every group.

So the Berry students spoke about the impact teachers have had on their lives and Gilbert spoke about the need to keep quality teachers.

“We are losing great teachers left and right for many reasons – which shall be discussed in June,” Gilbert said to the bemusement of teachers and some commissioners. “We are ranked (46th out of 50 states on teacher pay) in some items that will be discussed in June.

“As a parent, if my daughter ranked (46th out of 50), she’d be in trouble.”

Some teachers said they’re committed to the profession but may be forced to leave Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for another district or state where the pay is better.

“I would never leave my job, but I may have to,” said Eryka Vickers, a teacher at Community House Middle School. “I love teaching, but I love my family more.”

Afterward, Gilbert was upset that the students weren’t allowed to read their original speeches. “It took the wind out of us,” she said. “Where is free speech in county government?”

Robin Dumas, a veteran social students teacher at Community House, was upset, too, particularly after watching commissioners tweet while teachers and parents spoke. Commissioner Bill James accused the teachers of hijacking the meeting in one tweet, and called the group “the CMS mob” in another.

In another tweet, he said the teachers needed to address state legislators because they are the ones who raise teacher pay.

Dumas was not amused. “This is our livelihood,” she said, “and they can’t listen to us without tweeting?”