Teachers making waves

On the evening of June 8, the Enka High School gymnasium echoed with the frequent cheers and applause of more than 1,000 teachers, parents and students who gathered to protest potential state education cuts.

Code red: An estimated 1,600 people attended a June 8 rally at Enka High School to protest the elimination of 80 Buncombe County teacher positions. Many sported red shirts to symbolize their cause. Photo by Jonathan Welch

The rally was organized on the quick in response to the previous week’s news that an education budget working its way through the N.C. General Assembly could increase class sizes by two students, eliminating 6,000 teacher positions statewide and 80 in Buncombe County alone.

Initially intended to be held in the school’s auditorium, the event was moved to the the gymnasium due to the large turnout.

“Oh man, the rally was amazing,” Anna Austin, president of the Buncombe County Association of Educators, told Xpress a few days later. “What a wonderful level of support.”

Speakers ranged from PTA representatives to school board members to the Enka High student-body president, and their message was near universal: Cutting teachers would reverse the progress made over the past 20 years in enhancing the quality of education in Buncombe County, and legislators need to find another way to make up the budget shortage.

“Now it is our job to be advocates for our children and the quality of their education,” declared Mandy Brown, president of the Candler Elementary PTA. “I encourage our House members to realize how detrimental these cuts will be for our students.”

Brown’s speech and most others were punctuated by vigorous applause and standing ovations by the crowd, many of whom wore the red shirts that are becoming a symbol of solidarity among educators.

“Obviously, it’s a good start,” said North Buncombe Middle School teacher Alyse Tait. “But we can’t stop here.” Tait and her fellow teachers carried signs they plan to take to Raleigh later this month.

“I hope it’s a beginning; there are creative ways to do this,” said fellow North Buncombe Middle teacher Louise Watson, saying there are other cuts that can be made besides teachers and support staff. “We can cut the air conditioners if we need to,” she added.

The rally, noted Austin, seems to have sparked still more community involvement, including a letter-writing campaign and groups to traveling to Raleigh to lobby legislators. The letter-writing and petition-signing event is slated for June 18 at T.C. Roberson High. During the rally, Buncombe County School Board Vice Chair Steve Sizemore read a resolution asking the General Assembly to preserve the teachers’ jobs, and on June 9, Asheville City Council passed a similar resolution.

At least some state legislators appear to have gotten the message. On June 10, the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted to maintain current class sizes for kindergarten through third grade. That would restore 2,585 of the teacher jobs statewide, according to a newsletter from the North Carolina Association of Educators.

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