***Open letter to the Guilford County Board of Education, County Commissioners, and the NC General Assembly***
Wednesday, November 13, schools across the state will be hosting #RedForEd Walk-In Picket Lines. I want to invite our elected officials to join us as we rally for a state budget that is over 130 days past due. Our focus has not changed from May 1st of this year when we told our elected officials in Raleigh our top five priorities as public school educators are:
1. Hiring more school social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists.
2. Expanding Medicaid.
3. $15 minimum wage for all workers in schools and 5% raise for all educators and retirees.
4. Reinstating Master’s and advanced degree pay.
5. Making sure the retirement package stays the same for educators joining the field after 2021
In Guilford County we are seeing division emerge around proposed changes in the student discipline policy. There is a group of parents who are proposing that student behavior is the greatest threat to school safety at this time.
Let’s be really, really clear on what constitutes safety, and who bears responsibility for compromising the physical and mental well-being of students, families, and employees in our public schools.
Safety Issue 1: Secure buildings that are structurally sound.
The County Commissioners passed a $10 million bond referendum in June of 2018 for school safety and security, specifically to provide updates to provide buildings with basic improvement like locking doors. Over a year and half later only $600,000 of those funds have been released for a study despite another study that already showed our buildings have $1.5 billion in need. We need to be able to at least lock our doors. Further, we need to have building that have ensure basic operations (like plumbing, heating, air conditioning, etc.) are functional. How is this not a school safety issue?
Safety Issue 2: Support staff
– When we went to Raleigh on May 1 of last year, one of our top demands was funding for increased support staff like counselors, nurses, psychologists, and assistants. We have said repeatedly that we need qualified adults in our schools to help meet student needs. Understaffed buildings are a clear issue of school safety for both students and staff. The state budget is not only over 130 days past due, we are not currently on track to fund ANY of these support positions. This is a clear school safety issue.
Safety Issue 3: Health Care
– Full Medicaid Expansion would bring healthcare to 600,000 North Carolinians and 35,000 people here in Guilford County. Children having healthy parents is clearly a safety issue. Many of our classified employees, especially bus drivers and cafeteria workers are underemployed and are not covered by the State Healthcare Plan but could qualify for Medicaid Expansion. Is the health and wellness of our families and staff not a school safety issue?
Safety Issue 4: Transportation
– A $15 minimum base wage and a 5% pay increase across the board could go a long way to addressing the bus driver shortage in Guilford County where, on any given day, we are 35 to 50 drivers short with many drivers doing double and triple routes. Students are left to wait a long time at bus stops and many are late to school solely because we can’t pay drivers enough to alleviate the shortage. How is this not clear issue of school safety?
The list of issues is seemingly endless, but I will end with this:
If your are elected to represent everyone and you think depriving students of due process rights makes schools safe but aren’t out with us on picket lines for the issues I listed above, you are a hypocrite. It is our elected officials, specifically NC state legislators and our Guilford County Commissioners, that have failed our schools by handing over billions of dollars of public funds to the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the form of tax cuts. Student suspensions are a dogwhistle that serves to distract from the overwhelming failure of local and state elected officials to adequately fund our schools.
The NC General Assembly and our County Commissioners have the power to fund our schools. If you care about school safety, then these are the people from whom we must demand accountability and a commitment to change.
President, Guilford County Association of Educators
This post is public, please share on social media and tag elected officials on both the state and local level. Invite them to your #RedForEd Walk-In Picket Lines. Tell them when you will be out there and that you need them to publicly stand with you.
In Guilford County we are currently scheduled for events before school at the following locations. We will update this list throughout the day:
Union Hill Elementary
High Point Central HS
Middle College GTCC Jamestown
Southeast Guilford Middle
Western Guilford Middle