Organizing Works–Steps Towards a Better Budget for Our Students

“Leadership is accepting the responsibility to create conditions that enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty.”  Marshall Ganz

 

For the last 7 years, the Durham Association of Educators, together with students, parents, educators, and community supporters throughout our district, have been locked in a vicious cycle.  The State cuts funding for our schools.  We ask the School Board to stick up for our kids and ask for more from the County.  The County says our schools aren’t up to par, and resists fully funding the request until they either respond to the overwhelming public support for our schools, or stand firm in their opposition.

 

In many ways, this year has looked the same.  The state government, led by the Right wing of the Republican Party, continues the work of underfunding and dismantling public schools.  We just fell from 42nd in the country in funding per student to 43rd, leaving our students $3000 below the national average (cheating Durham’s students out of over $100 million more this year alone).  They are holding our elementary school arts, PE, and world languages programs hostage.  And now they are proposing more money for private schools and charters while cutting school funding and giving away more tax breaks to the wealthy.  Their intent is as obvious as it is disgusting—they aim to privatize public education, leaving the overwhelming majority of young people in our state without the food, health care, and opportunities to learn, grow, and build healthy relationships that they deserve.  There has never been a more uncertain time for public schools or our communities.  

 

Local leadership, however, is helping us find shared purpose.  In the last several years, supporters of public schools in Durham have worked hard to elect the best School Board in the state.  We have been building relationships with them in ongoing ways, and several sit downs in the last few months have seen exciting brainstorming about how we can get more of what our students deserve in this budget cycle.  Feeling renewed possibility, DAE and other groups sprung into action, mobilizing students, parents, educators, and community supporters to have meetings, make phone calls, send emails, and attend public sessions of the Board.  This Board was going to fight for our kids, and we would be there to fight with them.  

 

At last week’s Board meeting, the combination of progressive Board members and emboldened action from students, parents, educators, and our community supporters produced a huge win.  The budget the Board approved gets us closer to what our students need and deserve. It includes:

  1. Increased local funding to match a (hopeful) state pay increase
  2. Preservation of all Assistant Principal and classroom teacher positions that were at risk
  3. Maintenance of essential hours for the district’s clerical work
  4. Paying staff more fairly for taking on extracurricular duties
  5. Extending parental leave to educators who need it
  6. Teacher extra duty pay for instances like covering classes for co-workers
  7. Incentives to better appreciate our bus drivers
  8. Increased pay for substitute teachers
  9. Money to recruit the highest quality teachers

 

No one on the School Board, or in our community, believes that this is enough.  Valuable Instructional Facilitator positions, for example, will be lost.  And there’s the matter of the $100+ million that the state owes us.  But it is a positive step  and it is a statement that collective action works.  Multiple Board members spoke about the impact that the DAE-led efforts had on the process, and the power of organizing students, parents, educators, and community supporters is clear.  When we act together with progressive elected officials.  We win.  

 

On a few questions, there were some differences in the discussion.  On the first 6 points above, there was unity.  One side argued that we should fund increased incentives for bus drivers, higher pay for substitute teachers, and money for the recruitment of the highest quality teachers.  They are right.  We need all of that and our students deserve every positive outcome that flows from treating educators better.  Others, however, pointed out that while we need those particular items, the district has been functioning without a clear strategic plan, making it difficult to know whether or not those are the most urgent asks.  There was no opposition to the asks, but opposition to a process that isn’t preceded by a bold and new strategic orientation.

 

Both sides are correct.  We need to retain quality teachers, recruit reliable substitutes, and ensure that all school workers earn a living wage and fair compensation.  AND, we desperately need a strategic plan that guides the district towards programs and funding that we KNOW prove effective.  The district has worked hard to right its financial ship in the last few years, and that’s been an important first step.  But that has taken precedence over a provocative vision for a school system that addresses the challenges and harnesses the strength of our community in this particular moment.  Each board member supports bus drivers, substitute teachers, and the district’s ability to recruit high quality teachers.  Everyone wants a thoughtful and transparent strategic plan.  

 

Frankly, this was the easy part. The School Board is filled with educators and committed supporters of public schools.  We must now redouble our efforts to persuade the Board of County Commissioners to do the right thing.  Our community overwhelmingly passed bonds in support of our schools, elected pro-public education Commissioners to replace those who wouldn’t stand by us, and DAE and allied organizations will continue to mobilize people to take creative action at the school level, at the ballot box, and in the General Assembly on a weekly basis.  Our community supports our public schools, and the County Commissioners should respond accordingly.

 

Thank you, Durham Public Schools Board of Education, for helping us find our shared purpose going forward.  We will:

  • Engage County Commissioners so that they can hear our stories, understand our need, and support the strength of our community—its public schools
  • Work with School Board, DPS staff, and students, parents, and educators to develop a bold vision for the future of our County’s schools, including a new Superintendent hire that can partner with us in developing and implementing a plan that gets us there

 

Please take a moment in the next few days to send notes of support to our School Board.  They stood by us and helped us find purpose in this moment.  Because of their increased ask, we have something worth fighting for.  Now we need to win.  

 

And please join DAE at any/all of the following events as we look to build our strength and win more of what our students deserve

  • Tuesday, May 16 DAE meeting from 5 to 7 at Club Blvd. Elementary
  • Monday, May 22 County Manager Presents proposed budget
  • Monday, June 12 County Budget Hearing
  • Monday, June 26 County Vote on the budget

No one is going to fix this for us y’all.  We are fighting powerful forces, and the only thing we have is each other.  Taking the responsibility of leading and acting together is the path forward.  Your organizing and your action won Round 1 of this year’s fight.  Round 2 with the County will be harder.  And the ultimate bout with the State’s leadership can only be won with a strong vision, a correct strategy, and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands around the state to throw the privatizers out of the General Assembly.  We can do this.  We already have.  Let’s keep pushing and let’s win for our kids.  They deserve it.  

For more information or to join the fight, please contact DAE at dae4ourstudents@gmail.com or 919-210-9256.

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