Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Your Words Will Never… Wait, What The Hell Did You Say? – Or, The Truitt, Woodhouse, and Diaz Show

This past Wednesday, a group of 14 North Carolina educators were arrested as part of a demonstration that ended up as a “sit-in” on a busy Raleigh road.

As WNCN.com reported, a larger group of educators started a two-day march from Durham to the capitol building on Tuesday (http://wncn.com/2016/06/15/mccrory-wont-meet-teachers-who-march-to-his-office-today/).

The march was planned to build awareness to what organizers believe are unfit learning environments for North Carolina students.

About 50 or more teachers, school counselors, parents and students say their plans are endorsed by the North Carolina NAACP and Forward Together Moral March. The march started in Neal Middle School in Durham and also from Wakefield High School in Raleigh.

The group reached the capitol around 5 p.m. and began knocking on the building’s doors.

After not getting an answer, the group began to march on downtown streets, blocking them.

Needless to say that was a busy intersection. And it got the attention of a lot of news outlets, which is part of the reason for having the demonstration.

Fourteen teachers/educators were arrested. I am unsure of what will come from their arrests, but to many they just became heroes for their schools and for their students. Simply put, it takes guts to do what they did. Their students and communities will look at them and see them fighting for them.

I have met some of those teachers in that demonstration. They work in tough schools. They know what is happening all too well. They are good people. I would want my kids as their students.

Some people will no doubt say they went too far, were demanding attention from the governor on too short of notice, and were acting selfishly in stopping innocent people from getting home during rush hour. We can talk about that for a long time, maybe while we are stuck in traffic.

Yet it was the reactions from McCrory’s staff that made me realize why having demonstrations for public schools like this are very important. BECAUSE IT PUTS THE DIALOGUE ABOUT SCHOOLS IN THE PUBLIC’S EAR!

Three specific people stood out in this standoff (aside from McCrory), and their words and lack of actions show the disconnect that people in office have when it comes to the governor and the General Assembly’s actions concerning public schools.

First, there was Catherine Truitt, the Senior Education Advisor for McCrory. She offered to meet with the demonstrators and maybe they should have taken her offer, but she is really another shill for the GOP mainstays. One of the reasons that the demonstrators were wanting to meet with McCrory was because of the per pupil expenditures that have gone down in the past three years.

She was quoted as saying by abc11.com (http://abc11.com/politics/14-arrests-made-in-raleigh-as-teachers-protest/1385439/),

“We are doing a great job of educating our students and 57 percent of our general fund goes right into education in North Carolina, which is higher than the national average.

One needs to take that comment in context. Mrs. Truitt wrote a much uninformed op-ed for EdNC.org this past March where she “explains” how the governor has been very pro-public education. You should read it (https://www.ednc.org/2016/03/25/the-truth-on-education-spending/)

I wrote her a letter back and posted it on this blog after not receiving an answer from her. It remains the second most viewed item on caffeinantedrage.com out of over 70 postings.

Her quote about the 57 percent was the very same item she bragged about in that op-ed. She seemed to forget that our state’s constitution actually stipulates that we spend that much for public education. In fact, that percentage was higher before the governor took office under other republican governors. You may read my response to her here with all of the sources cited. (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/).

But remember, Mrs. Truitt has a job to do. She is speaking on behalf of a politician. Yet, I doubt she read any responses to he claims earlier which might be the reason she keep making the same uninformed claims.

Secondly, there was Dallas Woodhouse, the NCGOP Executive Director. He was quoted as saying in the WNCN report,

“What a bizarre group of union activists, blocking traffic and getting arrested to apparently protest Governor McCrory on raising teacher pay more than any other state over the last three years.”

Union activists? There is no union in NC, Mr. Woodhouse. You want to see union activists? Go to Chicago. Those are unions. In fact, those union activists have shut down one of the biggest school districts in the nation overnight. That’s power. But it is interesting that the very people you claim are union activists whom the NCGOP called “hardly newsworthy” became very much the night’s news.

Another point that Mr. Woodhouse brought up was the “raising teacher pay more than anyone else over the last three years.”

What he is referring to is that “average” teacher pay in North Carolina was increased by putting most raises in the hands of beginning teachers and not veteran teachers. He forgot to delineate between average teacher pay and actual teacher pay.

And the operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Also according to the most recent NEA report there is not much “growth” in NC’s educational condition. We are 48th in Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 2004-2005 to 2014-2015 (-10.2) – Table C-14.

Furthermore, those raises in teacher pay included the elimination of longevity pay which all public sector employees receive, EXCEPT TEACHERS. What really happened was that the NCGA took money from the pockets of educators and then presented back to them in the form of a raise all the while promoting it as a commitment to teachers. It’s like robbing someone and then buying them a gift with the stolen money and keeping the change.

Like Mrs. Truitt, Mr. Woodhouse is reciting practiced half-truths like he is paid to do.

An old friend, Mr. Ricky Diaz, was also referenced in the WNCN report.

Following the arrests, McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz issued a statement that called the demonstrators “union-funded campaign surrogates.”

“Not only did this demonstration inconvenience drivers, it wasted law enforcement resources during rush hour,” Diaz said in a release. “If Roy Cooper is in charge of enforcing the law in North Carolina, why would he send his campaign surrogates to break it?”

Diaz is the campaign spokesperson for McCrory’s reelection campaign.

Remember him? He was the 24-year old former spokesman for the DHHS in NC under Dr. Aldona Wos. He received a substantial raise soon after taking the job. He was making over $80,000 to be a spokesperson in what turned out to be one of the most disastrous DHHS administrations in recent history. When that raise was brought to light, he resigned to pursue a job in Washington D.C.

And here he is again getting paid to say weird things probably for a substantial salary.

According to Diaz’s quote, Roy Cooper is coercing the non-existent NC teacher’s union to fund demonstrators who eventually block traffic? The same demonstrators who were “hardly newsworthy”? Interestingly enough, Mr. Diaz used Cooper’s name more than his boss’s name in the report.

But now I see why he commands that big salary. He has to speak for the governor, who never speaks to any group that questions him.

Did the governor defend HB2 to the LGBT community face to face? No. Did he go to his hometown as the former four-term moderate mayor to explain why HB2 struck down their local ordinance? No. Did the governor defend his lack of action against Duke Energy in the wake of the coal ash spills to the people who were affected most? No. Did the governor defend those who were seeking more explicit explanation on how fracking could hurt rural environments? No. Has the governor ever actually addressed the North Carolina Association of Educators? No.

Did the governor respond to the demonstrators’ request for a meeting when an invitation was extended well before the actual march began in order to give him time to accept or decline formally? No.

Rather, he has others explain his actions or lack thereof. And all Mrs. Truitt, Mr. Woodhouse, and Mr. Diaz did was make the arrests of these 14 educators that much more important and newsworthy. Their non-answers prove that the questions raised by the demonstrators actually need to still be answered and that someone has to take responsibility.

Gov. McCrory should be willing to meet with the demonstrators. He needs to explain his actions. As a man who actually went to college to study to become a teacher, the governor should be very willing to talk to teachers and other educators about the state of schools.

But until then, the governor and those who “voice” his answers are just being roadblocks in the process of delivering a quality education to all North Carolina students.

And in Raleigh, creating a roadblock gets you arrested.

Or unelected.

Open Letter to Catherine Truitt, senior advisor on education to Gov. Pat McCrory concerning her op-ed on March 25th on EdNC.org.

Dear Ms. Truitt,

I read with great interest and frustration your op-ed that appeared on March 25, 2016 on EdNC.org (“The truth on education spending”) .

While you state that you have been a senior education advisor for Gov. McCrory a “short time,” the arguments that you make to boost Gov. McCrory’s reputation as an advocate for public education have been long overused and are cursory at best. As a teacher in North Carolina for over the last almost 11 years (and 13 of my 18 years as a teacher), I can with certainty state that your arguments only highlight a faint bloom of success, but not the toxic soil that feeds it.

You make several “spun” assertions in your op-ed. Please allow me to respond in hopes that the positives you attempt to point out are actually the opposite and are actually real problems that the governor has helped foster.

  1. The state’s portion of budget to public education.

You state,

“The truth is, total K-12 funding has increased each year of Gov. McCrory’s administration and North Carolina now spends 57 percent of its state budget on education, far higher than the national state average of 46 percent.”

This is the same argument that Rep. Hardister made on Sept, 3rd, 2015 on his blog The Hardister Report (http://jonhardister.blogspot.com/2015/09/public-education-funding-whats-truth.html). He talked of three sources of financing for NC public education – federal, state, and local. You are right; 57percent is far higher than the national average. But that’s because it is supposed to be. The state constitution declares it.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The rest of my explanation to him can be found at this link, http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a “Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature,” the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. As I stated to Rep. Hardister,

“…those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering. Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting numbers of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?”

Also lost in this is the uneven fashion in which money from the state is actually dispersed to LEA’s on the county and city levels. One of the more cohesive explanations of North Carolina’s state funding practices is a publication by the Center for American Progress entitled “The Stealth Inequities of School Funding” produced in 2012. It summarizes our state’s practices in a fairly concise manner, especially on page 46.

  1. Teacher Salary.

The statement you make about teacher salary is the most recycled, spun statement used by West Jones Street concerning public education in the last three years. You state,

“Teacher salary raises enacted in 2014 reversed the pay freezes that were enacted under Gov. Beverly Perdue shortly after she took office in 2009. In fact, the 7 percent increase in average teacher salary between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years was the largest teacher pay raise in the entire nation.”

First, Gov. Perdue and the NCGA at that time (2009) froze salaries and salary schedules because of the GREAT RECESSION. I think almost every business (in every state) froze their salaries; many even lowered them. Less money in people’s pockets, less money in state coffers. I, for one, was grateful to still have a job during that time. But ironically, why didn’t the governor just reinstall the salary schedule that was in effect in 2008 when he came into office after Perdue if he helped to guide us out of the recession? I surely would be making a lot more than now.

Secondly, you use that magic word – “average.” When Brenda Berg, CEO of Best NC made that same claim as a positive for NC, I responded with an explanation that has been made many times by many people. I stated in an August, 2015 open letter printed on EdNC.org (“A teacher weighs in on the war on public education”),

“The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Mr. Hogan’s (James Hogan) claim that there was only an average salary increase of $270 comes when one takes the actual money allocated in the budget for the increase and dividing that evenly across the board.

That raise you refer to was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Like an annual bonus, all state employees receive it—except, now, for teachers—as a reward for continued service. Yet the budget you mentioned simply rolled that longevity money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. “

Your claim here, Ms. Truitt, is simply using that same “average bear” technique.

  1. Technology

You state that the governor is championing “transformational measures” to make NC’s schools the best in the nation. You state,

“For example, North Carolina is on track to be the first state in the country to connect every classroom to high speed wireless Internet. This development will enable a wide range of personalized learning applications for all North Carolina children and has the potential to transform the way students learn.”

Interestingly enough, when politicians talk of personalized learning through technology, this veteran teacher (and many others) hears that you want to make the learning experience more virtual than realistic, specifically through virtual charters and academies.

I do understand that many students have circumstances where technology can help alleviate problems and open avenues for learning. My own son, who happens to have Down Syndrome, is a very visual learner. Technology has been huge for him when it is facilitated by a professional educator. However, when you put in technology for technology’s sake (with an already biased “positive” view of for-profit virtual schools), then your claim seems more like a plug for buying more computers and software and divesting from the human capital that really drives the dynamic learning experience – the student/teacher relationship.

  1. Teacher / Student ratios

You state,

“The budget he signed provides funds to reduce class size in first grade to one teacher per 16 students by 2016-17. He also signed legislation that will dramatically increase access to summer reading camps to ensure every student achieves the needed literacy by third grade.”

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom. However, local authorities can extend those class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is a reference to the use of provisions according to HB112.

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the previous table’s numbers. And that’s huge! I rarely have a class that is at or below 29 students. Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students.

Another detail to emphasize is the change that some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

So, you claim that putting a cap on class size for one of the twelve grades is a positive? My own son’s class for developmentally delayed children has well over a dozen students in it. Would the governor help cap those classes as well to help in those situations? I will partially believe it when my son’s teacher sees it. I will fully believe it when all classes have caps.

            5. Opportunity Grants

You stated,

“In 2014, the governor increased choice for low income parents by enacting the Opportunity Scholarship that provides financial assistance for alternative schooling for students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.”

Allow me to use the explanation I offered in a recent Winston-Salem Journal op-ed I wrote in February (“Defending public education”) against the use of Opportunity Grants which at a maximum of $4800 does not even cover one semester in a competitive, private school that can reject any applicant without explanation. I stated,

“One can argue that the Opportunity Grants can help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants are targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices.

If you scroll down on the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority website for the Opportunity Scholarship and click on the link called “Current List of Nonpublic Schools”, you will find a list of schools participating in the grant program. Notice a vast majority of those schools have religious affiliations. Ironically, many of those schools are already supported by churches that do not have to pay taxes. And now those entities are getting more taxpayer money to support curricula and processes that are not even regulated like those of public schools?”

Furthermore, if you think that it is necessary for funds to be given to people to get them a good education, then why not invest that very money in the very public schools you are constitutionally supposed to support to help those very students succeed in their public schools?

            6. 21st Century Skills

You stated,

“Gov. McCrory recognizes the role the state’s community colleges play in giving North Carolina citizens the skills they need to prosper in a 21st century economy.”

First, it helps that we have a strong public school system that gives a strong foundation of learning and academic skills for those who enter the community college classrooms. But there has to be jobs for these citizens to use their skills.

Look at the list of businesses, companies, and corporations that have disavowed the governor’s signing of HB2, the most discriminatory piece of legislation in recent memory which ironically was signed merely hours before your op-ed was published on EdNC.org.

Too bad that the very citizens the governor is claiming to help train for the 21st century economy will not have companies that are willing to relocate and start here or even continue to do business with the state. That’s because 21st century economies do not work well with Jim Crow-style, bigoted climates that the governor promotes.

This is an election year, Ms. Truitt. Your boss is embarking on a re-election campaign that daily is coming under fire for his very lack of leadership. As teachers and voters, we need to be able to see substance to your arguments, not airy claims.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School