Teacher Rally Raleigh (copy)

In this May 16, 2018, photo, educators and their supporters cheer during the March For Our Students and Rally for Respect. The North Carolina Association of Educators is calling for another rally May 1 in Raleigh to support education issues such as better pay and better student-to-professional ratios of counselors, librarians and others.

GREENSBORO — The Guilford County Association of Educators wants the district to call off school May 1 so educators can attend the Day of Action rally in Raleigh recently called by the North Carolina Association of Educators.

The district was one of three dozen that canceled classes last year for a similar rally after nearly 2,000 teachers here said they would take a personal day to attend the event.

Members of the professional organization, which functions like a union in some ways, appeared before the Guilford County Board of Education at its meeting Thursday to explain their plans and ask that the schools shut down on that day.

Teacher Leah Hendershot said GCAE is asking school staff to put in requests for a personal day May 1 and has 700 people confirmed.

The event, “NCAE Strong: All Out for May 1” aims to bring school staff from around the state to rally in the state capital for education issues. The top issues they are supporting this year include better pay and benefits for school staff, better student-to-professional ratios of counselors, librarians and others in schools, and expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina.

Ahead of last year’s rally, Superintendent Sharon Contreras and her administration initially resisted closing the schools and tried to find substitutes to cover for teachers going to the rally. They canceled classes after nearly 2,000 teachers confirmed planned absences on that day, what officials said was about twice the number of district substitutes.

The group that spoke in support of the NCAE agenda at the board meeting included both teachers like Hendershot and other school staff such as Ron Surgeon, a cafeteria standby assistant.

“As a classified employee, we are essential to the system, too,” Surgeon said.

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson of Winston-Salem said he can’t support protests that force schools to close and urged they be held on a non-school day, such as during spring or summer break, the Associated Press reported.

It doesn’t sound like NCAE will make changes. President Mark Jewell says the rally is designed to affect pending budget discussion as soon as possible, and that Johnson underestimates the schools’ critical needs.

The comments from the GCAE group at the Guilford school board meeting came during a busy public comments period.

One group, a trio of speakers from the Page Alumni and Friends, got an immediate reaction from board member Darlene Garrett after the public comment period.

Group members are concerned that the Page High School cafeteria is inadequate and said that past leaders of the school district had specifically promised the school priority in dealing with the issue. They felt the district should renovate the cafeteria to accommodate more students.

They also raised concerns that Page was lower on the list for renovations in a recent school facilities study, and that the school board recently voted to reallocate leftover money for various construction projects to pay for new career and tech programs at other schools rather than to address Page’s cafeteria problems.

Group member Buddy Rankin said students who buy lunch are spending much of their limited eating time going through a long line to get food. He said students might not get enough to eat or the psychological benefits of a real lunch break.

Garrett read a resolution in support of prioritizing cafeteria improvements at Page, supported their recollection about the promise, and asked school board members to show hands if they supported prioritizing the Page project. A couple began to raise their hands, but Chairwoman Deena Hayes-Greene said it was inappropriate to ask without a deeper discussion for board members to better understand the issue. She also said that there may be other schools with parallels to Page’s situation.

“What’s right is right, a commitment was made,” Garrett said, returning to the issue at the end of the meeting. “You deserve a cafeteria where students don’t have to sit on the floor.”

Board member Byron Gladden questioned whether any such commitment could have been fairly or properly made without full board approval.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.