School workers in Carolinas rally for pay raise, better conditions

By Sam Manuel
May 20, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. — Thousands of public school teachers and their supporters — among them school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers’ aides, students and parents — marched here May 1 for the second year in a row to demand increased funding for schools. Thousands more marched and rallied the same day in Columbia, South Carolina.

“We came with three busloads from Gilford County,” Miss J, as she is popularly known to her students and parents, told the Militant. A school bus driver, her workday begins at 5:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until all her 75 to 80 students have been safely dropped off, sometimes as late as 6 p.m.

Because of low pay and long hours, several school districts across the state face a shortage of bus drivers.

“The teachers deserve more money and we need more funding in general,” she said. “The buses need better maintenance, the children need after-school programs — and that’s why I am here. They should be the priority.”

“We were able to come because school bus drivers took the day off,” and they had to close the schools, said Kathryn Jackson, a teacher’s aide in Alamance-Burlington school district. “Teachers’ aides play an important part in the classrooms. In some there are too many students for the teachers and that’s where we come in.” Pointing to the rally, she said, “Just as we’re together in the classroom, we have to be together in this fight.”

Unlike in West Virginia last year, where teachers and other school workers coupled rallies in the state Capitol with strike action that won broad support and forced gains from reluctant state governments, organizers of this march made lobbying state legislators and getting out the vote the central theme of the action.