|Teachers flocked to Frankfort again Monday to protest Senate Bill 1. A crowd of more than 1,000 was reportedly on the Capitol steps. Pictured above in attendance were Melissa Redmon and Brittany Rose (Mt. Sterling Elementary School teachers), Erin Ashcraft (a KDE employee and former MSE teacher) and Shan Andrews (MSE teacher).
|Local teachers rally against pension plan
|By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
Current and former educators from Montgomery County are making their voices heard when it comes to a proposed pension overhaul bill that would drastically cut their retirement benefits.
Local teachers participated in walk-ins and rallies at each of the schools March 8 and several have gone to Frankfort to lobby against the legislation. Several of them were in Frankfort Monday.
Retired teachers have also gone to Frankfort to rally against Senate Bill 1 and planned to go back (Wednesday) yesterday.
The controversial pension bill would cut $4.8 billion in benefits for public employees, retirees and teachers. Kentucky has one of the most underfunded pension systems in the nation.
The bill would lower the annual cost of living adjustments retired teachers receive.
Teachers contend cutting the cost of living adjustment goes against what they were promised and that they prepaid for while teaching and paying into the retirement system.
The bill also puts limits on how teachers and state employees can apply unused sick time to pensions and how long they have to work before receiving enhanced retirement benefits.
Supporters say the bill would save taxpayers $3.2 billion over 20 years.
The Senate Local and State Government Committee had approved the pension bill, but the full Senate chose not to vote on it last Friday and the bill went back to committee.
The committee was scheduled to meet against Wednesday (yesterday) afternoon.
Linda Colliver, president of the Montgomery County Retired Teachers Association, said she believes the protests are making a difference.
“I definitely think it’s made an impact,” Colliver said. “I think that’s why they have sent it back to committee. I think it’s because they didn’t have the votes.”
Jimmy Robinson, the local association’s legislative chair, said current and former teachers want to make sure their voices are heard.
“The fact that we have so many people locally and statewide that are upset about this, I think it’s starting to show in Frankfort,” he said. “We do have a voice, we are informed and we have legitimate gripes about why we don’t want this bill to be passed.”
Robinson said the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association believe there are other ways to tackle the state’s pension crisis without cutting benefits.
They encourage legislators to tackle tax reform before tinkering with benefits they have been promised.
Robinson said the Legislature has several options to raise revenue including raising gas or cigarette taxes, taxing services or raising the sales tax.
“We feel like finding revenue for our system is the best way to go rather than taking away our benefits,” he said.
Robinson encourages the public to contact their legislators and voice support for an alternative to SB 1. Among those they’ve lobbied is state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who voted for the bill in committee.
Some current and former educators have spoken out passionately against Alvarado’s vote.
Robinson notes that Alvarado has always sought public comment via telephone, e-mail or text. He encouraged his colleagues to do so in a professional manner.
“Let him know our feelings and do it in the right way,” Robinson urged.
Alvarado said he was never in love with SB1, but found it necessary to address the state’s growing pension crisis. He said he even worked with local superintendents to draft his own legislation to address the issue, but it scored poorly and never moved forward.
“I did fight for them,” he said of his district’s teachers, “I tried.”
Alvarado said he has offered to speak with teachers in both Montgomery and Clark counties to reassure them that he understands their concerns, but has been rebuffed.
“I have gotten no response in Montgomery County and in Clark County I was told, straight out, you’re not welcome,” Alvarado said.
What people need to understand is that without a pension fix, citizens will be faced with local tax increases to pay for rising pension contributions for city and county governments and school districts, he said.
Alvarado said it appears no solution to the pension crisis will be found this session and the unfortunate result will be kicking the can down the road yet again when it comes to pension reform.
“The bill is essentially dead,” he said.
State Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, said he can’t support SB 1 if it makes it to the House.
Hale said he objected to the proposed cuts in cost of living adjustments to retirees because they had already been promised. Without Social Security, he said, retirees will certainly need those adjustments.
“There’s really a fear that has gripped them right now,” Hale said. “They’re very concerned about their retirement pension. I feel for them. I would tell them that I understand their concerns.”
Hale is a retired state employee himself.
At a pension rally last week at Mapleton Elementary School Maggie Ring, a retired teacher who taught in Montgomery County for about 30 years, said cuts to retirees’ health care benefits will have a devastating effect.
Ring said she currently pays several hundred dollars a month for health insurance for her and her husband. She said she’s worried what will happen if she has to pay more.
“It will devastate us,” Ring said.
Ring predicts the proposed cuts, if approved, will reduce the number of teachers staying in the profession.
“I can’t imagine the quality of teachers after this,” she said.
Catherine Rush, a reading interventionist at Mapleton, repeatedly blew a whistle at the rally while holding a sign with contact information for leaders in Frankfort during the rally.
“If you cheapen the educational process then you will not bring quality teachers to the schools,” Rush told the Advocate. “I fear for our children.”
That lack of quality teachers will hurt the quality of the students’ education, Rush warned. She said she believes fewer people will want to be teachers if SB 1 goes through.
“Nobody will want to do it (teach),” Rush said.
—Staff writer Brianna White contributed to this story.