Local Politics

Teachers group takes on Republican businessman

Posted April 1, 2011 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2011 6:28 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Association of Educators has called for a boycott of stores owned by Raleigh businessman Art Pope, saying he poses a threat to the state's public schools.

Pope, a former lawmaker, uses his personal fortune to fund conservative advocacy groups, such as the John Locke Foundation and Civitas Institute.

He maintains that he is a longtime supporter of public education.

"I support defending teachers in the classroom," he said Friday. "I've always been a positive constructive critic of the public schools."

He said he supports merit pay for teachers based on tough standards, more choice for parents by expanding charter schools and tax credits for families who bypass public schools for private schools or homeschooling.

"That is taxpayer money being transferred from the public schools to home schools – unaccountable home schools," said Brian Lewis, government relations manager for NCAE.

"He wants a fragmented public education system. He wants a system for the haves and the have-nots," Lewis said.

The association, which represents almost 60,000 teachers statewide, wants members and supports to boycott Pope-owned stores like Maxway and Rose's. Pope's Variety Wholesalers Inc. owns more than 400 discount stores across the Southeast.

"He sells goods from out of this country in poor communities, takes the profits (and) transfers them to advocacy groups that seem to be advocating for the dismantling of public education," Lewis said.

"That's completely false," Pope said, saying his stores provide low-cost shopping alternatives and that a boycott would threaten the jobs of his workers.

A recent YouTube video produced by NCAE slams Pope and others, including House Majority Leader Paul Stam and Wake County Board of Education Chairman Ron Margiotta, for what the group calls an attack on public education.

"It's personal, and it's political," Pope said of the NCAE stance. "Just because they've lost their Democratic Party majority in the General Assembly, they're now attacking Republican donors like me."

NCAE is trying to recruit the NAACP and other groups to join the boycott. Pope said he won't back down, touting what he calls a need for reform.

"I will not be intimidated. I will continue to do what I think is right," he said.