Guilford County Educators Association Holds Press Conference

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The group urged government leaders to increase funding to fix broken air conditioning systems, repair damaged buildings and increase staff salaries.

GUILFORD COUNTY, NC – The Guilford County Educators Association held a press conference on Sunday calling on state lawmakers to pass the stalled state budget and include increased funding for repairs to school buildings, pay for support staff of at least $ 15 per hour, and increased pay for teachers.

The group included a parent, students, teacher, counselor and a Guilford County Schools Librarian. They gathered outside Smith High School, one of three public schools in the district that sent students home last week due to broken air conditioning systems in the summer heat of North Carolina.

Speakers discussed shortages of teachers, bus drivers and support staff, as well as delays in renovating schools.

“Today we are calling on lawmakers to make a real commitment to our schools,” Kenya Donaldson, president of GCAE, said at the start of Sunday’s press conference. “In Guilford County, students are wasting instructional time due to school closures around our aging buildings and failing HVAC systems.”

The two-year state budget was supposed to be in place on July 1. The NC Senate adopted its plan at the end of June, and the House followed at the beginning of August. Along with diverging political views, lawmakers have said unexpected billions in tax revenue and COVID stimulus funds have added complexities to budget planning.

Currently, House and Senate leaders are in negotiations before the budget can be sent to Governor Cooper.

“We are asking that a school construction requirement be put in place on the 2022 ballot so that the people of North Carolina have a voice in the state of school facilities,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson also spoke about the shortage of teachers in the state.

“Earlier this summer, the US Department of Education predicted a statewide teacher shortage in North Carolina,” she said. “Every child deserves a qualified teacher in all their classes, regardless of where they live and their family income… a staff shortage hurts our students. “

Kirsten Cassell, parent of a student at Joyner Elementary, spoke about the dangers faulty air conditioning has created for her children as well as other facility issues.

“We don’t drink the water at Joyner,” Cassell said. “There is often mold in the hallways. Pipes have burst and flooded our schools. And the temporary fixes are not able to keep the school mold free.”

“The HVAC system is so old and so broken. It breaks every year. I have bought several ventilators for teachers over the years. My kids come home warm and sweaty on a regular basis,” the mother added. “He got so overheated that he threw up. When I picked him up from school his skin was warm to the touch, you could tell he felt horribly bad.”

As WFMY reported last week, schools in Guilford County are processing 700 work orders related to HVAC maintenance, and officials said it could be 10 years before the issue is fully resolved. due to lack of funding.

Amy Harrison, a special education teacher, said she spoke on behalf of classified employees, including teacher assistants, front desk staff, guards, bus drivers, maintenance workers and employees from the cafeteria. She called for increasing the wages of uncertified school staff to at least $ 15 an hour.

“Years of low pay have contributed to some 325 classified vacancies,” Harrison said.

Shana Richards, vice president and GCAE advisor at the Virtual Academy, expressed frustration that the state budget has yet to be passed.

“It’s shameful. These are problems that are easily solved. Problems solved by fully funding our schools,” said Richards. “They are sitting on a $ 6.5 billion surplus.”

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