By TOM WOERNER
Of The Record Staff
The Harnett County Board of Education did not vote Monday night to join other school systems in canceling classes Wednesday for a statewide teacher protest movement in the state capital.
Two speakers at Monday night’s regular meeting of the school board asked members to cancel school Wednesday to allow more teachers to participate in what is being called the “March for Students and Rally for Respect” rally. Several area systems, including Johnston County, canceled classes because a large number of teachers were expected to request annual leave days to attend the event. Harnett County School leaders have said there has not been significant interest from teaching staff here to make canceling school appropriate.
Brandi Woods, representing the Harnett County NAACP, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.
“It is our hope the Harnett County Board of Education will support our teachers in this movement,” Ms. Woods said. “You can make teachers realize you are serious about supporting them by agreeing to close school on May 16.”
John Beaumont, the husband of a teacher, also spoke.
“We are concerned about the lack of concern the Harnett County Board of Education has for its teachers,” Mr. Beaumont said.
The board did not act on closing schools but Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming agreed to meet privately with the speakers to address the issue.
Dr. Fleming said earlier in the week teachers were asked and there was not significant interest among teachers about attending the rally. He said less than 10 teachers have requested annual leave to attend the rally.
One teacher, who would not provide her name or where she works, said she was not polled and said she asked teachers in four other buildings who were also not asked about taking the day off.
“It is very upsetting because we were not asked,” the teacher said. “It shows zero support from our board of education or from the superintendent.”
The teacher said the rally will be significant.
“This is the first time our voice will be heard at the state level and around the country,” the teacher said.
She said teacher pay is only a small part of the protest.
“I knew going into teaching the pay wouldn’t be what I wanted it to be,” the teacher said. “This is about me having to go to the store to buy crackers because my students haven’t eaten when they get to school. It is about not having desks in the classroom that aren’t old and dangerous because they have sharp metal sticking out.”
Several other teachers, also not identifying themselves, also said they were not asked whether they would attend the rally.
One teacher took personal time to attend.
“I don’t know why but Mr. Fleming doesn’t want us going to Raleigh,” the teacher said.
Teachers are hoping to address several issues with the legislature. Among their demands are ending experienced education pay discrimination, increasing the average teacher pay to the national average within four years, significant and livable raises for all public school employees and restoring advanced degree pay. They also hope the legislature will restore longevity pay, ending pay for performance based on test scores, reinstating career status and real dedicated planning time and lunch time.
In the local area, all Johnston County and Cumberland County schools are closed today allow teachers to participate in the rally. Sampson County spokesperson Wendy Cabral said school is scheduled to be held as normal today.
In other action, the board voted to hire Wake County Assistant Principal Matthew Price as the new principal of Western Harnett High School. Board members voted 3-1 to hire Mr. Price, with Roger Farina casting a nay vote.
Mr. Price is currently an assistant principal at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. He has previously worked at Overhills High School in Harnett County and at Broughton High School in downtown Raleigh.
Mr. Price is a former science teacher who holds degrees from East Carolina University and North Carolina State University. He has been active in several Wake County organizations including the Wake County Division of Principals and Assistant Principals, the Wake County Equity Committee and the United Way of Wake County.