Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Groene and part of the audience
Photo by George Lauby
Talking afterwards with retired teacher Mel Pontious
To prevent any trouble, two Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies stood by at a Town Hall forum Saturday evening by Sen. Mike Groene. It turned out there was no need for law enforcement, even though some Groene critics from eastern Nebraska were said to be in the audience.
Some people asked combative questions of the sometimes combative Groene, who represents Lincoln County in the state legislature.
Nearly 80 people attended the forum, which was held at the West Central Research and Extension Center (the state farm). Farm Bureau sponsored the meeting.
Groene began with the N-CORPE water farm. He said he would push to require N-CORPE – a government agency – to sell its land to private owners, so the land will generate property taxes. Under the proposed bill, N-CORPE would retain the water rights.
Groene also said a few words about tax increment financing. Then he opened the meeting to questions.
Bills to tweak TIF are being heard in the Legislature’s committee this week, Feb. 21-24.
North Platte resident John Owen asked if the TIF law could be changed to only do what TIF was intended to do – restore run-down urban areas.
Groene said state law contains a provision that basically allows TIF to be used for any kind of development. He wants to remove that provision.
He said he has support from several senators, including freshman Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. He said Wayne is dismayed that TIF is used for new residential tracts on Omaha’s outskirts.
Many questions were posed about education. Education officials are feeling threatened by some of the Legislature’s efforts to reduce property taxes – the primary source of money for education – as well as a bill to create tax vouchers to attend private schools, and another bill that would permit charter schools to be established.
Another bill would relax the requirements for temporary teachers.
Groene has caught fire for remarks about education.
He’s said teachers and administrators should be more accountable for students’ success, and gone so far as to refer to “lazy, second-rate teachers protected by tenure” in emails that have been widely circulated.
“I love hard working teachers who teach,” he said during the forum.
“Do you have a master’s degree in education?” a woman asked Groene.
He said he has a bachelor’s degree in economics.
“Then why are you the chairman of the education committee?” she asked.
“He was elected,” someone called out from the audience. Others echoed that.
“I was voted in our democracy,” Groene replied. “That is a great, great thing. We the people hire educators to run our schools.”
Another woman who did not identify herself, challenged Groene for referring to educators as “animals in charge of the zoo” in the same set of emails, as the online Bulletin first reported Feb. 9.
“It’s an allegory,” Groene retorted. “It means ‘don’t let employees run the business.’”
He said school boards are in charge of schools, which are owned by the taxpayers.
Groene said an advanced degree does not guarantee the holder will be a good teacher.
“Teaching is a gift,” he said. “It doesn’t equate with education. Good teachers learn how to use that gift.”
Near the end of the meeting, Groene said, “I support public schools.”
North Platte resident Jim Tierney asked if the state could publish the amounts that schools pay administrators, and compare that to spending for teachers.
Tierney also suggested that the numbers of special education students in a school are sometimes falsified, so schools can get more “sped” money from the state and federal government.
Groene said the federal government has not kept their promise to help pay to educate special education students.
He said, “That’s typical of the feds.”
Resident Ann Milton asked if school districts report their budgets to the state. Groene said the records are public, and the state department of education publishes the salaries of school superintendents. He said more particular information can be requested from local schools.
Milton also asked about LB 568, which would give a five year teaching certificate to temporary teachers if they are 21, have a high school degree, complete 55 hours of training and have a good knowledge of both the federal and state Constitutions.
Milton said the lower standard would lower the quality of teachers and education.
Groene said rural school districts need help finding temporary teachers. Substitute teachers with degrees are hard to find in some parts of the state.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman of western Nebraska.
Groene noted that the state is obliged to provide for the education of all children.