Teachers lecture legislators at Plainview town-hall meeting
PLAINVIEW — A winter of political discontent played out in microcosm Saturday afternoon in Plainview, where Republican state representatives Mike Benson, of Rochester, and Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, held a town-hall meeting and heard an earful from unhappy public school teachers.
Benson and Drazkowski both said they support a statewide two-year freeze on teacher salaries, while teachers among the nearly 100 people at the meeting contended that local school districts should retain control over salary decisions.
"We're not arguing the freeze, we're arguing the local control," said Kit Hawkins, president of the Rochester Education Association. "If you give districts the local control, you'll find out who can manage their budgets and who can't."
Drazkowski said the statewide freeze would avert layoffs for 1,385 teachers. But he set off a chorus of protest when he said, "Teachers have the best interests of kids at heart. Unions do not."
"But we are the union," several teachers responded in unison.
One teacher accused Drazkowski of denigrating Minnesota's public schools. Another pointed out that a state-imposed freeze is the kind of state mandate Drazkowski earlier in the meeting said he wants to eliminate. Still another said that public employees are as important as private-sector employees in keeping the economy healthy.
"We don't just take our check and run away with it," said Kevin Keilholtz, a Plainview-Elgin-Millville teacher. He said he shops locally and owns a home in town. "The majority of us live here, we're invested in the community," he said.
Jan Karnas, a Rochester teacher, said she worked in private industry before becoming a teacher, and has never worked harder than she works now. "This us-against-them is not doing us any good," she said. "Just because we have hard times, it falls on the teachers as the bad guys?"
Benson said it is intended that the pay freeze would be temporary, for two years. "Folks, we've run out of money," he said.
To that end, Benson and Drazkowski promoted a number of pro-business bills that they say would improve the state's business climate, including tax cuts for what Drazkowski called "job providers."
"I wouldn't get carried away with tax cuts generating a growing economy," countered Plainview bank official Dean Harrington. "I've been in business for 41 years, and taxes were higher in 1970."
Taxes since then have been steadily reduced, Harrington said. "I've been waiting for that payoff, and it hasn't come," he said.
Molli Funk, of Plainview, asked the representatives if they've looked for additional revenue. "Are you coming up with answers, instead of just cuts?" she asked.
"It would take new laws," Benson said.
"But we can change laws," Funk said. "Why can't we try something?"
In response, Drazkowski said it's possible that some of the Legacy Act funding mandated to support arts and the environment could be used to plug holes in the budget.