By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For two days every October, schools close, parents scramble and kids enjoy a couple days off of school. Minnesota’s teachers union holds its annual Professional Conference during the school year. But is the cost worth it?

“When they kids are younger, it’s probably a pain,” said one mother, who took the day off from work to hang out with her kids at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

“Of all the teachers employed in the state, how many actually attend the MEA conference versus how many use it to take a long weekend away?” asked Sheila Skwira, from Eagan.

“We do not have to be here, this is of our own choice,” said Tracy Olson, a high school math teacher, who is attending the conference at St. Paul’s RiverCentre.

Teachers are offered continuing education classes and sessions on topics like bullying and creative ways to ignite a passion for reading. Teachers need those credits to keep their licenses.

“It’s a non-paid day, they’re taking their own time, their own resources to get down here, to share things with each other to become better teachers on Monday,” said Tom Dooher, President of the state’s largest teachers union, Education Minnesota.

While teachers have to pay to get to the convention, and they technically don’t get paid for the days they’re there, parents also pay. There’s cost to arrange day care for young kids, and a cost to taking vacation days to be with the kids.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, traffic was down “significantly” during peak periods this morning.

“As long as they’re actually doing something, then I don’t mind the time. But if they’re taking it as a day off like us, why?” asked one parent.

According to Dooher, 10,000 teachers go to the conference. There were several sessions Thursday that had to be closed because they were at capacity. But that 10,000 teacher attendance is out of 70,000 licensed Minnesota Teachers.

“Oh, my. That’s a lot missing,” said one parent.

Just 14 percent of teachers go to the convention. So, why not have it during the summer, when kids are already out of school?

“Right now, we’ve been in school about six weeks, so they’ve gotten to know their classes. What they can do now is take this information and immediately apply it, unlike in the summer,” said Dooher.

There’s also a historical reason. The convention has been in October for nearly 130 years, when it moved from a summer date in Rochester.

Olson echoed Dooher’s answer, and added that teachers “kinda need the break.”

“We used to know a lot of teachers that thought of it like another couple vacation days,” said one dad.

It is vacation for a lot of people. At MSP International Airport, lots of people loaded onto planes.

“In recent years, the MEA weekend has been busier than Thanksgiving weekend,” said MSP spokesman Pat Hogan.

Olson said she was already learning things on the first day of seminars at the conference. According to Dooher, taxpayers are not funding the event at all.

“Education Minnesota funds this completely out of our own dues money. So, our members are actually funding it,” he said.


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