LETTER: Chatham’s schools need Chatham’s help


Public schools are currently experiencing a staffing crisis. Many of you reading this have children in the school system and know how challenging it is when a full time substitute is in charge of your child’s classroom instead of a highly qualified, licensed educator. And if you are not familiar with this challenge, you will be in the future.

Chatham started the school year with roughly 1 out of 10 teaching positions unfilled. And it is not much better than that right now. The absence of a teacher significantly impacts student learning and increases the workloads of other school staff. More teachers and other vital school staff will leave and it is becoming harder to replace them.

These staffing issues are not unique to Chatham. All school systems in the state are suffering due to the intentional underfunding of public education by the NC legislature. But Chatham is going to suffer very acutely going forward because neighboring school systems are spending more than us. They will poach more of our staff, as they already do every year. And they will attract more people from the shrinking pool of educators.

An investment in the county staff supplement (the extra pay each school system offers on top of the base state salary), that retains our existing staff and attracts new staff, is required right now. An investment now will be much less expensive than a required future investment when vacancy rates are significantly higher. And when the pool of available educators will be much smaller. We need to prioritize public education in this year’s Chatham County budget.

This increased expense will have to come from other areas or involve increased local taxes. To those concerned about rising taxes, please remember that your state income tax has gone down significantly in the last 15 years. And the state corporation tax has done the same. And the state legislature intends to reduce those taxes down to 0% in the near future. That may sound great, but it comes with a cost. A cost that is being paid by public school staff and students across the state. Public education is being underfunded in order to pay for these tax cuts. To make up for this, counties must step in. It’s not right but it is required.

1,344 parents, school staff, community members and business owners recently signed a petition calling on our county leaders to increase support for local schools. Let’s fully fund Chatham County Schools’ 2024-25 budget request and ensure fewer of our students have their education impacted by teacherless classrooms.

Edward Walgate is a local high school teacher and member of the Chatham County Association of Educators.