March 22, 2011

UMF students to hold pro-teacher rally during LePage visit

FARMINGTON — A student-led rally is being organized to support teachers during Gov. Paul LePage's visit Thursday to the University of Maine at Farmington.

A group of education majors has been scrambling to spread the word after learning a little more than a week ago about the governor's visit, according to Grady Burns, one of the 12 students behind the rally.

The aspiring teachers are worried about proposed changes to retirement benefits and other issues that affect teachers that are part of LePage's two-year budget, he said.

"It's kind of sending a chilling effect through education majors," Burns, 20, said of the governor's proposals and others like it across the country. "It's kind of a frightening time to be an education major."

South Street in the heart of UMF's campus in Farmington will be closed Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. for the rally, and LePage is scheduled to speak to a political science class on campus at 6:15 p.m.

The rally is on a different part of campus than where LePage is speaking, according to Burns, a sophomore from Auburn, and there is no intention of confronting the governor.

"It's not meant to be an attack on the governor, but it is meant to provide a counter to what we see from him as attempts to chip away at teachers in the state," Burns said.

LePage's proposals to require additional contributions to the retirement system, freeze cost-of-living increases and make changes in health insurance benefits apply to teachers as well as state workers, according to news reports.

LePage's press office confirmed his visit to UMF but did not return a request for more details.

Calls and e-mails have been pouring in from teachers, community members and local union groups supporting the rally, Burns said. More than 80 people have already said they plan to attend, he said.

Rally organizers used press releases, phone calls and social media networks, including Facebook, to help get support in such a short time, he said.

Burns said the group is still looking for people interested in speaking at the rally. Students, teachers, education leaders and parents have shown an interest in speaking, he said.

Most of the rally organizers are sophomores at UMF.

They are concerned they have no voice in the national debate over collective bargaining rights, pensions and many other labor issues, according to Burns.

"It seems like it's been pretty silent from education students ... we're trying to really get the word out," Burns said, referring to having students' positions heard in the State House.

No permit is required to hold a rally in Farmington, according to Town Manager Richard Davis, but public announcements need to be made when a road is closed for an assembly. No other groups besides the UMF students have contacted the town, he said.

Burns said anyone wanting more information about the rally should e-mail rallyaroundeducators@gmail.com.

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