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As crowd rallies for schools, Apodaca vows 'sizable' pay raise for teachers

A drum line performed as protesters of education cuts gathered at the Henderson County Courthouse on Saturday. A drum line performed as protesters of education cuts gathered at the Henderson County Courthouse on Saturday.

Aggrieved teachers, public school supporters and other advocates for education rallied at the Henderson County Courthouse Square on Saturday to denounce education cuts and urge the public to fight for a reversal.

The Public School Appreciation Rally drew a crowd of 163 people to the sun-splashed public square, many of whom had marched from the Grove Street Courthouse to Main Street toting signs in support of education.
Organizers and speakers made a point of saying the rally was non-partisan. No Democratic candidates appeared on the platform and signs promoted education generally without mentioning political parties. Ironically public schools advocates have adopted red to show support for teachers and more spending.
"I was thinking, 'Where'd we get that from?'" Don Bryant, president of the Henderson County Retired School Personnel. "You know, in the bull ring, if a bull sees red he goes into a total rage, and that's what we are. We're in a total rage about public education, are we not?"
The crowd cheered its assent.
The General Assembly, Bryant continued, "has done kind of a systematic dismantling of our public education in this state. We have to stand up with one voice and let the legislature know they are accountable and we won't stand for the nonsense they've done this past year."
TomApodaca 2State Sen. Tom Apodaca said the Senate budget will contain a 'sizable' pay raise for teachers.State Sen. Tom Apodaca, the second most powerful member of the Senate, said a Senate budget proposal in the works ought to please teachers.
"I was in Raleigh until late Thursday working on the education budget and we are looking at various ways to give teachers a, quote, sizable pay increase," he said. He filed a bill last week requiring that 51 percent of K-12 spending "has to go toward the classroom," a figure that he said is now around 45 percent. "You're talking about millions of dollars plus we're going to supplement the budget by hundreds of millions. It's going to be a good year to be a teacher."
Teacher pay tops the list educators want addressed but it's far from the only issue. Bryant ticked off a "dirty dozen" fixes or spending increases the Legislature should enact:
• Raise teacher pay from 49th "to at least the national average."
• Restore the "salary step" program enacted in 2008 but funded with one increase since then.
• Restore teacher tenure, which the General Assembly eliminated last year. "We got a tremendous lift yesterday from Judge Hobgood, who said it's unconstitutional to take away tenure," Bryant said.
• Restore classroom size limits.
• Restore teacher assistants.
• Restore the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, which gave college scholarships to top high school seniors who committed to teaching in North Carolina. "I hired two or three teachers that came out of that program and they were wonderful teachers," said Bryant, who retired as Upward Elementary School principal.
• Restore per pupil allocation funding.
• Eliminate a voucher program that shifts state money from public to private schools.
• Restore incentives for advanced degrees.
• Restore funding for textbooks, which the Legislature cut.
• Require that classroom teachers be licensed, a requirement that the Legislature relaxed.
• "Reduce the insane testing our kids have to put up with and our teachers have to put up with," he said.
"Did he say how we're going to get all this money?" Apodaca asked.
Bryant's answer: "I think we have to delay the tax cuts they enacted last year. That's $300 to $400 million in reduced corporate taxes and taxes the wealthy pay that could be applied to restore those areas I mentioned."
To which Apodaca responded: "That's how little Mr. Bryant knows, when he talks about tax cuts for the rich. The Washington Post ran a fact check and said about 80 percent of North Carolina families get a tax cut. Working families get a tax cut. That's his definition of the wealthy, not mine."
Although organizers billed the rally as nonpartisan, the 12-year Republican incumbent said it seemed to tilt toward the Democratic Party.
"It's amazing to me we never heard a peep out of these folks when the Democrats were in and didn't give any raises or anything else and cut the education budget," he said. "It seems kind of suspicious to me."
The rally took place beside the imposing Historic Courthouse where, an organizer said, the county manager had ordered the removal of a pro-education sign on Friday.
LizLiz Agnello"We had a wonderful banner up here that said 'Vote for Public Schools' and it stayed up for two days," said Liz Agnello, "and it was taken down yesterday by the county manager. He said it was too political."
County Manager Steve Wyatt said that's not what happened.
"Apparently Christine Hallingse had approved them doing their thing and then she said she wanted to put a sign up there," Wyatt said. "Kathy (Finotti, who replaced Hallingse as communications director) saw it" and questioned it. "What I said was, 'Follow the policy,'" which bars use of the Courthouse property for political activity.
Wyatt objected to Agnello's characterization of his role and motives.
"I don't know who she is and I didn't say that," he said. "I don't know how she can quote me if she hasn't talked to me. Commissioner (Michael) Edney asked me about it because apparently someone had complained to him. I said this: 'It is my understanding it did not meet the policy.'"