Listening to the people: Retirement benefits a hot topic at legislators' town hall

Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2010

Those that charge state legislators in Juneau never listen to what they have to say, got an opportunity to speak directly to Rep. Kurt Olsen, House Speaker Mike Chenault and Sen. Tom Wagoner on Saturday, during a three-hour "town hall" meeting in Soldotna.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Sen. Tom Wagoner, center, is flanked by Rep. Kurt Olson and House Speaker Mike Chenault as he answers a question from a constituent Saturday morning during a town hall meeting at the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna.

A crowd of several dozen gathered to be heard on a variety of topics, but a bulk of those who spoke focused on educational issue and concerns for their dialogue.

Dan Adiar, a science teacher at Niksiki High School, requested the legislators consider going back to a defined benefit plan, rather than the defined contribution plan, as the retirement plan for teachers.

"I need to know for my time as a public servant, I will be taken care of," he said.

LaDawn Druce, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, also spoke to the issue of retirement plans for teachers. She brought to the legislators attention Senate Bill 23 and House Bill 30 (both would repeal the defined contribution retirement plan) and House Bill 54 (restoring pension benefits for public employees), and asked them to give these bills hearings and seriously consider co-sponsoring them.

John O'Brien, principal of Nikiski Middle-High School, also addressed the retirement plan issue, and he specifically addressed the "unfactored-in cost" of the defined contribution plan, such as losing teachers who don't want to risk staying long enough to retire under the plan, as well as replacing them with teachers who may not be as qualified as their predecessors.

"Are we filling positions? Yes, people need jobs," he said. "But when there's a revolving door of teachers, and experienced teachers leave our community to move back to the Lower 48, the quality of instruction is decreased."

Other areas of education were also discussed with the legislators. Wayne Floyd of Nikiski, speaking on behalf of his children and grandchildren, and Kim Denesen, who works with special education students through the Stages and Foundations Program for the Kenai Peninsula School District, both asked the legislators to consider removing high school graduation qualifying exams from the curriculum.

"Telling the kids they're successful or not successful based on one test is not fair," Denesen said.

Not all of Saturday was spent discussing education. David Caswell, state director for the veteran's memorial organization Honor and Remember of Alaska, asked the legislators to consider supporting House Resolution 1034, which congressionally recognizes the "Honor and Remember" flag as a permanent symbol to fly in memory of the sacrifices of fallen military personnel.

No meeting in Alaska would be complete without talk of fishing, and George Pierce of Kasilof asked the legislators to pay closer attention to the issues related to the personal-use fisheries at the mouth of the Kasilof and Kenai rivers.

Some also used the time on Saturday to offer kudos to the legislators for the work they had already done. Brent Johnson, representing the Kasilof Regional Historical Association, offered thanks for the support the association received in its efforts to protect the historic "Watchman's Cabin."

In July, the Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mining and Water gave permission for the cabin to be transported 5.5 miles to the association's museum grounds on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kasilof, where roughly six other historic structures -- in addition to numerous outbuildings and caches -- already reside for preservation purposes.

Linda Swarner, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank also offered thanks to the legislators for their past efforts to the institution, and she asked that they would consider future appropriations as the food bank continues with it's "Building To Nourish" capital campaign to match a $395,000 grant received from the Rasmuson Foundation.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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