'We need money': NC teachers deliver a message, face to face

Posted May 17, 2018 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:20 a.m. EDT

— Clutching a sign that read, "Today we ask. In November we vote," Union County teacher assistant Judy Shannon walked into Rep. Craig Horn's office on Wednesday. Her message was clear: "We need money."

Shannon and at least half a dozen other educators crowded into Horn's office during the teacher rally, which drew thousands of people to the North Carolina General Assembly.

"We need money for all the students across the state," Shannon told Horn. "And then the other issue about pay."

Horn, a Republican who serves as chairman on two House education committees, met with dozens of teachers and some students during the rally, each with a different request for him.

A WRAL News reporter spent the day shadowing Horn and sat in on many of his discussions with teachers, including Shannon and her colleagues' impromptu talk. Watch video of their discussion or read the partial transcript below:

Judy Shannon: We need money for all the students across the state, and it’s going to take reps from every county to fight for that across the state, and that's what 10, 12, however many the final count is the people that are marching here for. And then the other issue about pay. I think we kind of took exception to the longevity pay and, and …

Rep. Craig Horn: I think …

Shannon: Wait!

Horn: I’m sorry. I was just going to ask a question.

Shannon: I only have a short amount of time. A big problem with the term "average" being spun out there because it pits community against teachers, and we have veteran educators that never get a raise.

Unnamed woman: And never got a raise.

Unnamed woman: Or, enough to cover my insurance, if I was lucky. I’ve been teaching 29 years.

Shannon: And that’s just sad. And that’s some really poor political spin to use that. And it’s being used to pit community against us. We see it in newspaper editorials. We see it on Facebook pages. We see it even in nonsupport from particular counties, such as ours. We didn’t get a touchy-feely, 'We’re going to close and support you.' It just said, 'We’re going to close because it’s not safe.' Other counties got, 'We’re going to support our teachers because they’re fighting for your students,' and we didn’t get any of that. It’s bothersome. Yes?

Unnamed woman: Yes, very much so.

Shannon: So, we need funding for the kids. We need fair pay.

Unnamed women: Nurses ... social workers ... money for assistants.

Shannon: We need...

Horn: Well, I …

Unnamed woman: Agree (laughter)

Horn: I agree (laughter). I may not agree with everything, but I agree in broad strokes, yeah.

Shannon: I live in Union County, and I would pay more taxes.

Horn: OK.

Shannon: And those taxes would go right back to – well, not me because I’m retiring, but those [funds] would go to my schools. And new kids coming into the community would benefit from that. We need, and we need people that will fight for that on clean bills, not embedded in something else.

Horn: Good luck on that. I’ve been trying to pass a clean bill since I’ve been here. I haven’t gotten one through yet.

Shannon: Well, we need everyone to step up more, just like everyone across the state in red stepped up to make this happen. Because we are going to vote. (She holds up her sign: “Today we ask. In November we vote.”)

Horn: Good. I want you to vote. I’m asking you to vote. I’m not asking you to vote for me. But at least vote.

Shannon: Well, you know, we’ll vote out ...

Horn: Please do. I’m happy to go home.

Shannon: And if blue [Democrats] comes in and they don’t do, then we’ll vote them out. Because we’ve got to do something.

Horn: OK.

Unnamed woman: Thanks for listening. We know you’re going to listen. And I do hope that you do a lot of things that you said and did for us many years ago.

Horn: I’m pretty proud of my track record. I’m not embarrassed about my track record or my votes. I’ve worked very hard. I will continue to work as hard as I possibly can. I’m in schools not only all over our county but all over the state. I speak to teachers, students, parents. I don’t avoid any interviews. I don’t avoid any anything. I will enter every discussion. Notice the sign on my door. What's it say? 'Agreement not required.' I’m going to learn from everybody. There is no one … Look, I’m the dumbest guy in the legislature.

Unnamed woman: I will say we are not from your district. But I stand up for you because I believe you listen to teachers. Rep. Horn and Ms. Johnston came and met with a group of us in Kannapolis. We had great discussion. He’s very open when you send him emails. I know you don’t push everything through that we are for in this room, that it’s really more about kids. But I trust you. And the main thing that I like is that you listen. Although we’re not from Union County. I even put on social media the other day – somebody who was unhappy – I said to contact you.

Horn: No, I want them to contact me. That’s how I learn. I can’t solve problems I’m not aware of. I am not an educator. I’ve never been and I don’t, I don’t know how you do it. I frankly do not know how you do it. I am just amazed at not only what you do but how you do it and all the crap we dump on top of you. It's amazing to me that you do this and you do it year after year. I’m grateful. So I have an obligation – listen and learn and try, try to be effective. Now, I’m no great shakes. I’m a pretty human human. I screw up a lot, but it’s not for lack of effort. I will take what you’ve said. I take it all very seriously. You’re the fourth group I think I’ve met with today. I’ve got several more television interviews. I don’t avoid anyone or any issue. We don’t always agree. If we always agreed, one of us is crazy. Because that just doesn’t make sense. But we can be faced in the same direction, and I think we are. And I think my track record on that is clear, and that’s not meant to be a campaign speech. I'm just saying ... I don’t refuse any entrance to anybody.

Shannon: How about a pay scale – and this won’t affect me because I’m an assistant, like I said, and I’m retiring – but for teachers that go by steps and somebody that has worked for 20 years and brings the experience to their children and to younger teachers as mentors in the school, a raise.

Horn: Have you heard of a program called advanced teaching roles?

Shannon: No.

Horn: It’s a program that I have championed here in the legislature that provides more money for those teachers that are reaching out, providing mentorship and guidance to others and helping them. It’s one of the ways, one of the ways. It’s not a perfect program. We’re just at the front end of it. I’ve not been able to get hundreds of millions of dollars to support it. But I’m continuing to push forth on this. I think I’ve got it again in next year’s budget. We’ll see.

Shannon: That sounds like something where that might be two per school or something.

Unnamed woman: That’s an extra duty. I didn’t get a raise for seven years. When I did, I got less than people with less experience than me. And that doesn’t make sense. And less time. It makes no sense.

Shannon: You and your friends. No, you and your coworkers wrap it up to the public as they’ve gotten more. You wrap everything up around that average, and not a person in the community knows that she has not received any …

Unnamed woman: After seven years of not ... one raise, and it still was less than the steps when I signed my original contract.

Shannon: So, this is a real thing. I mean, you probably got more (she points to another teacher). I don't know.

Unnamed woman: I've been there longer, and I went seven years with no raise.

Horn: I appreciate you coming by. And I'm happy to come and meet with you all in your school or in Union County.

Unnamed woman: Yeah, come back, come back.

Shannon: One of the good things would be not saying that, 'Well, the teachers get an average raise.' I mean, have that saying, 'Well ...

Horn: Did I not explain average raise when I spoke?

Shannon: I’m not saying to teachers. I’m saying to the public. When you have the media in here, whether it be print or digital, to explain or admit that average raise means beginning year gets this much …

Horn: I have said that every time and in every interview.

Shannon: OK. OK.

Horn: I have said that every time in every interview.

Shannon: OK. As long as it's acknowledged, because many don't.

Horn: I have done it every time in every interview, and I will continue to do so because I believe it. I understand. I do understand the difference between average and median and what in fact an individual gets or doesn’t get. But, I’ve still got more to learn.

Unnamed woman: The other thing I want to just say about the whole mentoring – I know you’ve got another group – when you talk about that as an additional thing for teachers to be able to get, it works great if you have young teachers in your building who need to be mentored. Our staff, we have been so solid, we don’t have that turnover, which means we don’t even have the ability to try to earn that. So, once again, it’s not really helping.

Horn: I use mentorship as an example. It’s not exclusive to mentorship. There are lots of other things you all do for which you should be paid additional money and make more money, and that’s included in this project. The project is in its early stages. It took me four years to get this supported by the General Assembly. I introduced it for four consecutive years before I finally got it passed. That’s the interesting part of the General Assembly. Even the most logical thing somehow finds opponents. And the legislative process is a challenge, but it’s my job and I need to do it better, apparently, so I will try to do that.

Shannon: It’s not on all your shoulders. There [Rep. Mark] Brody. There's [Sen. Tommy] Tucker ...

Horn: We all have got to pitch in, but I can’t ...

Unnamed woman: Make them.

Horn: Yeah. I can’t speak for others. You need to hold me accountable. And I am happy to be accountable for my actions.

Unnamed woman: We will!

Shannon: Thank you so much for your time.