North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Republican representing Guilford and Rockingham counties, sat down and talked for nearly an hour with 15 protesters that had staged a sit-in outside his office Monday night at the Legislative Building.
“We know that he is in the building here,” said Guilford County Elementary School Teacher Todd Warren. “We are going to remain here until he comes to meet with us.”
That was Warren addressing fellow protesters and members of the media outside Senator Phil Berger’s office Monday, a little after 7 p.m.
The protesters, mostly educators, stated their intention to stay there until Berger appeared. They wanted to share their feelings about the recently released State Senate Budget, which would offer 11 percent teacher raises at the expense of tenure, and cut up to 7,400 teacher assistant positions statewide.
At around 8 p.m., Berger did appear, and a chairs were pulled into a circle so that he and the protesters that had filed in from the earlier Moral Monday protest on Halifax Mall could talk about teachers’ issues.
During the conversation, Berger asked protesters if they could find the money to pay for teacher raises and teacher assistants, in a way that didn’t involve raising taxes.
“There are some things that, I would assume, are non-negotiable as far as y’all are concerned, OK?” said Berger. “Well, there are some things that our folks feel are non-negotiable, and a tax increase is one of them, OK? So, if, uh…”
“That’s not a tax increase – it’s a repeal of a tax cut,” one protester interrupted, to laughter and chatter from other teachers.
“That sounds like a tax increase to me,” Berger answered over the other voices.
Near the end of the discussion, which got testy at times, Berger promised protesters that he would talk with them again.
Satisfied that Berger had met with them, they left, and there were no arrests.
Before Berger showed up, Christoph Stutts and some fellow Chapel-Hill Carrboro teachers stood outside the legislative chamber, across from where the protesters had gathered, and peered inside as Senators chatted.
Stutts teaches social studies at Carrboro High School, and he’s been an assistant football coach for nine years.
It was his wedding anniversary, and he decided to bring his son to what was the first Moral Monday rally for either of them.
Outside on Halifax Mall, they had joined an estimated 750 protesters, many of them dressed in red shirts in support of education.
“I remember when my own mother – when I was growing up in Washington, D.C. – took me to City Hall, to protest in support of public education, and the kind of impact that Mom and I were able to have” said Stutts. “And I want to show the same thing to my son.”