Michigan Representative for Grand Traverse County, Larry Inman, met with active and retired teachers Saturday, May 6 at the MEA office in Traverse City. He had requested the meeting to listen to educators concerns about their future. Every seat was filled as was every inch of wall space in the conference room.
The assembled group was desperately trying to make Rep. Inmann understand what was happening to them and education in general here in Michigan. You may be thinking that they were fighting for their pensions and health care. You might be expecting those teachers to complain about lack of accountability in charter schools making for an uneven playing field on which they are judged. It would be obvious if they were asking for some control over their school calendar to meet the timelines of state subject objectives.
However, perhaps not so surprising, the teacher’s main concerns centered on the welfare of the children in their classrooms. They wondered why there seems to be a perception among the public and legislators that teachers don’t care about our children? Why do people and legislators believe that teachers are villains who demand that children come to school every day even if it is their birthday, or they stayed up late the night before? Why do legislators no longer believe that education is the most important gift we can give our children?
Inman asked how many of the teachers in the room would encourage their children to seek a career in education. No one raised their hand. He painted a rather gloomy picture of Michigan education for the immediate future. He said it is a battle to get equitable per pupil funding for northern Michigan students. However, Inman said he feels that there may be enough moderate Republicans that will join Democrats in holding up budget approval until a compromise can be reached. But there is a long way to go and “there may be” is far from “it’s a done deal”.
Teacher pensions are still a big issue according to Inman. Tea Party Republicans want to close the current pension plan for all new teachers and offer them a 401K. With new hires no longer contributing to the established pension, the state will have to subsidize both plans for a period of years. Inman suggests that it could cost Michigan twice as much over the next 15 years.
The meeting ended as cordially as it began. Representative Inman promised to continue his advocacy for education and the teachers promised to hold him accountable. For better or worse that is democracy in action.