ROCHESTER, Minn. - A group of Rochester Public Schools teachers traveled to St. Paul on Saturday to lobby state lawmakers for more K-12 public education funding, but it was the signs they held aloft that ended up drawing the most attention on social media.
And not the good kind of attention.
One sign held May 18 by a Rochester Education Association member declared, “Fund Us, Carla,” but the first letters of the first two words were in bold, making it read, “F.U., Carla.” Carla referred to state Sen. Carla Nelson, a Rochester Republican who is a chairwoman of the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy division.
Another said, “Carla, WTF!” WTF, on the sign, stood for “Where’s the Funding?”
The signs ended up going viral and generating strong backlash from users of Facebook and Twitter, particularly among Republican lawmakers and conservatives. Some chastised the REA members and their signs for lacking class, for being tacky and generally setting a poor example to young people.
“Great message for one of our public school teachers to promote,” a Facebook user in one thread said.
“How does this persuade or result in dialogue that can lead to resolution???” said Olmsted County Commissioner Shelia Kiscaden, a former state lawmaker, on Facebook.
Nelson, the target of the teachers’ signage, called the signs a “gross lapse in judgment,” but one that she did not believe was representative of all Rochester teachers.
“I’m very disappointed to see that type of disrespect and innuendo and vulgarity,” Nelson said. “It’s clearly unfortunate, and I’m sure that teachers, some may wish they hadn’t done that.”
REA President Don Kuhlman declined to address the signs themselves, but said they were reflective of the frustration and concerns teachers have over education funding, where “we’ve lost ground.”
“I look at it as our teachers are dedicated. They’re trying to get the best possible funding for education for our kids,” said Kuhlman. “We’ve seen it across the nation. You can see the frustration building in educators. And I think that frustration came out.”
Rochester teachers were part of a larger rally Saturday at the Capitol that numbered 250 to 300 educators. It came only days before the session was set to adjourn and as DFL Gov. Tim Walz and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman were negotiating a budget agreement with GOP Senate Majority Paul Gazelka. A budget agreement was announced Sunday by Walz and the two parties.
Rochester teachers were directing their message at Nelson and Senate Republicans because at the time of the rally, the GOP caucus was proposing an increase in per-pupil state aid of only 0.5% in each year of the two-year budget, Kuhlman said. The agreement worked out by the two sides on Sunday included 2% increases.
Although the final agreement was better than what Republicans had proposed, the signs did not help further that cause, said Sen. Dave Senjem, a Rochester Republican.
“It was not the way to influence people,” Senjem said. “These are our teachers. These are the people who are going to be in front of kids on Monday morning. And that kind of judgment on Saturday morning didn’t help the cause. It embarrassed their profession.”