By Jeremiah Reed
Sports Editor 

Cooper Visits BHS


April 15, 2019

Jeremiah Reed

Gov. Cooper meets with students in Jennifer Williams' TIME science program

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper paid a visit to Brevard High School Thursday, meeting with students and faculty as part of a day-long tour across Western North Carolina to tout his support for education and make a push for his proposed $2 billion education bond.

Cooper spent roughly an hour at BHS. The morning began with a 20-minute closed-door meeting with local officials and representatives, including County Commissioner Page Lemel, Sheriff David Mahoney and Transylvania County Superintendent Jeff McDaris.

From there, Cooper paid a surprise visit to some classrooms. His first stop was Katrina Ronneburger's digital media class. He then visited with Jennifer Williams and several students in the TIME science program.

Cooper's final stop was Sean Parrish's art class.

It was the beginning of a busy day for the governor, whose itinerary included stops in six WNC counties.

It was also a timely visit, as it came less than a week after Cooper released his proposed state budget for 2019-2021– which includes $2 billion for construction projects across public schools statewide.

According to projections, Transylvania County would receive approximately $11.8 million under Cooper's proposal.

Last November, county voters by a 60 percent margin approved a $68 million school bond.

That vote didn't go unnoticed in the Governor's Mansion.

"We are impressed that Transylvania County passed a school construction bond," Cooper said. "I've been a strong supporter of a statewide school bond, and we need to help local counties with school construction to make sure that young people have a safe, quality place to go to school."

Cooper stressed the importance of the state bond proposal, adding that many school construction projects are beyond the capacity of local government and the state must be there to fill that need.

That being said, any budget proposal comes with opposition and Republicans in the legislature have already criticized the school bond, which is part of a $3.9 billion bond package that also includes statewide infrastructure projects.

House GOP members countered with a proposed $1.9 billion school bond, with Senate Republicans backing a "pay-as-you-go" plan that would use general fund revenue to cover construction expenditures each year, instead of borrowing the money.

But Cooper questioned whether that would be enough to do the projects he envisioned and feels it deprives voters the chance to let their ballots do the talking.

"I don't think that will provide for the needs of schools and it doesn't give the voters a voice. It will cut out our ability to fund other educational initiatives if we don't invest in the school bonds now, and all the counties don't know how much money they're going to get," he said.

Despite the early pushbacks, Cooper enjoys a position he hasn't had in years past, as last fall's elections results were enough to quell the super-majority that negated the governor's veto power.

That bargaining chip in the back pocket hasn't gone unnoticed.

"We have a little more balance in the legislature this year and I'm hoping we will have a budget that's better for public education," Cooper said during Thursday's media session.

The bond proposal was only one part of the budget that focused on education. Cooper's plan also includes an average pay raise of 9.1 percent for teachers over the next two years, with every teacher receiving at least a 3 percent raise.

Principals would also see a raise, with pay being based on experience and the school enrollment, according to a brief from the Governor's Office.

Other proposed measures include bringing back master's pay for teachers, expanding the Teaching Fellows program and eliminating the requirement that teachers pay for substitutes when they take a leave day.

All of these proposals are aimed at recruiting more teachers to the state and retaining top teachers once they arrive.

"We need to be investing in our public schools and we need to make sure that our educator salaries are such that we can attract and retain the very best people to be teachers and principals in our schools," Cooper said. "One thing we have bipartisan agreement on, is that a good principal in every school and a good teacher in every classroom improves public education. Instead of more tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, we need to invest in higher teacher salaries. We need to invest in more technology and school supplies."

Indeed, Cooper's budget proposal includes $29 million for school supplies, with an emphasis on digital resources and technology.

Cooper also stressed mental health among students, and his budget includes $40 million to fund school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers. Despite all those proactive measures, building up the inventory of teachers in the state may be an uphill fight.

In what was an underwhelming response, Cooper asked two classrooms of students, totaling roughly 40, if any of them wanted to be teachers. In one classroom no hands were raised; there were less than a handful in the other.

Cooper said he believes his initiatives can help curb that trend by compensating teachers in a way that shows their profession is respected and supported by the public.

"I think we have to raise the level of respect for our public school educators," he said. "You do that by paying them a salary that is commensurate with the trust that we put into them to teach our kids.

"Let's put our money where our trust is. We need to greatly expand Teaching Fellows scholarships. In order to deal with the decline in the number of young people who are going into education, we need to lift up the profession. If we don't, we're going to be in trouble."

Cooper followed that up by saying there are several counties across the state already struggling to recruit or retain teachers.

BHS principal Bryan Abernethy accompanied Cooper throughout his visit. The two, he said, have quite a lot in common.

Both of their mothers were teachers, and LaTanya Pattillo, Cooper's teacher advisor, previously taught under Abernethy at East Columbus High School.

Their ideologies also align, particularly when it comes to schools.

"I agree with everything he says on education. He's fighting for us and I couldn't ask for anything more. It seems like since he's been in office, things have improved, in terms of teacher salaries. If you want to recruit and retain the best possible educators, that's the first step," Abernethy said.

Abernethy spoke specifically about bringing back master's pay for teachers and expanding the Teaching Fellows program.

Prior to its elimination in 2013, master's pay provided teachers in North Carolina an additional 10 percent salary if they have a master's degree.

The Teaching Fellows program was introduced in 1986 and provided college tuition for prospective teachers in exchange for their teaching four years in the state after graduating. The program was eliminated in 2011.

A revised version of The Teaching Fellows came back in 2017, but advocates argue more can be done to enhance the program.

Overall, Abernethy said it was an honor to host the governor, who hailed some of Brevard's "innovative programs," when asked what brought him to Transylvania County.

"I've said since I arrived at Brevard, July 1, 2017, this is the best school I've ever been a part of. We're the most well-rounded school in the state, in my opinion. I tell the teachers and the students that every day. As a result, we produce well-rounded students who will be able to handle any challenges that come their way in the future," Abernethy said.


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