Denton holds court on education, labor at first town hall

Published 10:42 am Friday, March 7, 2014

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Freshman Democratc state Rep. Oscar Denton gave the dozen people who attended his town hall meeting a glimpse into his first two months in Jackson.
“As of today, I haven’t met anyone who didn’t vote for me,” Denton told the small crowd Thursday in the county courtroom on the second floor of Warren County Courthouse, referring to the support thrown his way in the central Vicksburg district he represents. “But, I’m a Democrat through and through. We’re not in the majority. The Republicans are in the majority. It’s a fight every day.”
Denton, 60, a nearly 40-year employee of AT&T and a labor union negotiator, spoke of his opposition to recent anti-union legislation that has passed the House, which Republicans control 64-58. Two bills passed to the Senate this week that made it tougher for unions to organize and easier to get court injunctions against picketing of a home or business.
“If it weren’t for unions back in the day, we wouldn’t have a middle class,” Denton said.
House and Senate leaders are debating two bills that would raise teacher pay. The House version is more complex, as it would raise pay $4,250 over four years, but experienced teachers would have to meet certain requirements to collect the full amount. Teachers would receive $1,500 spread over the first two years. Then, if state revenue continues to grow at least 3 percent a year, they would get a projected raise of $2,750 over the third and fourth years of the plan. Those in their first five years of teaching would receive the raises automatically. Teachers with more experience would have to meet three of 22 criteria, ranging from earning certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to joining a civic club.
The Senate version gives teachers a $1,500 raise this July, followed by another $1,000 a year later. That’s 5 percent for beginning teachers the first year and 3 percent the second year. In the third year, teachers would become eligible for merit raises in schools with good academic performance.
Denton said he is opposed to merit-based pay, based on practicality.
“I’m totally against merit pay. I don’t know of a way you can police that. That’s why it should be an across-the-board raise,” Denton said.
Denton defeated four opponents in a nonpartisan special election Nov. 5 to fill the unexpired term of George Flaggs Jr., who was elected mayor of Vicksburg in June. His allegiance to the minority party in each chamber of the Mississippi Legislature was palpable.
“The Republican Party has an agenda — and they’re sticking to it,” he said. “If we don’t take back the House in 2015, it’s going to be worse.
“I’m for raising everybody up,” he said, raising his hand above his head at one point. “They’re not. They’re for pushing people down.”
Denton sits on the Corrections, Municipalities, Workforce Development and Youth and Family Affairs committees in the House.