RALEIGH: Berger meets with Moral Monday protesters on education - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Berger meets with Moral Monday protesters outside his office

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Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger meets with Moral Monday demonstrators after they staged a sit-in outside his office. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger meets with Moral Monday demonstrators after they staged a sit-in outside his office.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger met with Moral Monday demonstrators after they staged a sit-in outside his office to protest what they say are cuts to public schools in the Senate budget.

After protesters rallied on Halifax Mall, others attempted to enter Berger's office Monday to deliver letters to the senator. But when they arrived, they found his officer door locked.

The demonstrators instead gathered outside his office chanting, "Phil skipped class," a rally cry to this week's Moral Monday focus -- education and teacher pay.

"It is absolutely essential that the people of North Carolina understand what's happening," said demonstrator David Bland, who was not among those who went to meet with the senator. "School choice, pay for performance -- these are things, these are reforms that are strongly correlated to improvements in student achievement.

"That's really what this is about -- improving student achievement."

Around 8 p.m., an hour after the Senate was scheduled to convene, Berger met with 15 protesters to discuss their concerns, among them what the North Carolina NAACP says are cuts to public schools in the Senate's proposed budget.

Berger, however, contends that K-12 education funding has increased. He said that while he and the protesters don't see eye-to-eye, that doesn't mean he doesn't value their opinions.

"There are some things that I would assume are non-negotiable as far as you all are concerned," Berger told the demonstrators. "Well, there are some things that our folks feel are non-negotiable, and a tax increase is one of those."

The Senate's budget includes raises for teachers that Berger said amount to an average of $5,800 a year and raises in excess of 11 percent. The raise would bring North Carolina more to the middle of the pack for teacher pay nationally, rather than toward the bottom.

The North Carolina Senate's $21.2 billion plan for the year starting July 1 would give teachers those raises in exchange for the teachers relinquishing their tenure or "career status."

Wake Schools said the Senate proposal would also likely require the declination of 693 teacher assistant positions out of 1,250 allotted for the current school year.

Buncombe County teacher Lindsay Furst said she appreciated Berger meeting with the demonstrators, saying it was "the right thing to do."

"I'm so glad that he came to speak with us," Furst said. "I think that was definitely the right thing to do when you have constituents. However he did say many times that we were having a conversation and he was listening, but it felt like he was arguing."

At the meeting, Berger handed out a 24-page amendment detailing the spending for 14-point policy agenda of the N.C. NAACP, the architect of the "Moral Monday" rallies. The agenda would cost more than $7 billion and require raising the corporate income tax from 6 percent to 50 percent, according to Amy Auth, a Berger spokesman.

"Show me where the money would come from," Berger said.

He also noted that no lawmaker of either party in the Senate filed any bills or amendments to accomplish the NAACP and "Moral Monday's" goals.

"I don't think there's a fundamental difference in what our goals are," Berger said. "There are differences in how we achieve those goals...that doesn't mean your opinions aren't worth listening to."

Among the protesters other concerns is the proposed elimination of Common Core standards. Last week, both the House and Senate passed versions of a bill that directs the State Board of Education to stop participating in developing the standards.

The Senate version has won over North Carolina's chamber of commerce, which opposed replacing Common Core, because it contains language giving the state board flexibility to retain many current standards.

Conservative think tank the John Locke Foundation says the demonstrations amount to differences in opinions between the liberal Moral Monday protesters and the GOP-led General Assembly.

"These aren't legislators who are somehow immoral or extremist," said Terry Stoops, the director of research and education studies for the John Locke Foundation. "These are individuals who have different ideas about how education should be conducted in North Carolina."

This was the third week that Moral Monday protesters have staged a sit-in at a lawmaker’s office. Last week, 11 demonstrators were cited for misdemeanor trespassing after they refused to leave the locked Capitol building. And the week before, 14 protesters were arrested at 1:45 a.m. when they refused to leave House Speaker Thom Tillis' office for more than 8 hours.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Beau Minnick

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