Teachers from across Carter County gathered in Grayson on Saturday to voice their opposition to Kentucky Senate Bill 1, which they said would defund pensions for teachers and other public sector employees without a replacement revenue stream.
Teachers and Kentucky Education Association (KEA) representatives also claim Carter County schools could lose up to $2 million due to Frankfort's failure to properly fund public education, which could result in up to 50 school employees losing their jobs.
“Not only is that bad for us, it's bad for the students,” explained Aaron Eldridge, an algebra teacher at East Carter High School. “It hurts everyone.”
Eldridge said SB1 not only allows for future reductions in pensions, but also to benefits and insurance without notice. He explained that teachers contribute over 13 percent of their pay to the pension plan, including 3% to fund their future retirement health insurance and 1.75% to pre-fund their 1.5% COLA. The KEA says both of those pre-funded accounts are being “raided by the Governor.”
“The money just seems to be disappearing,” Eldridge said. “If they push this (bill) on us, a lot of school systems are going to be impacted. This is going to hurt, deep.”
Janie Messer, a history, government, and civics teacher at East Carter Middle School, said the bill will impact not only teachers and school personnel, but other public sector employees as well.
“Mr. Bevin has started a campaign in Frankfort to try to defund teachers, and all state employees, really,” Messer said. “To defund their pensions, (because) they haven't kept up their promise, of putting their part of the pension money back for years. Now they're running seriously in the red, and they want to try to find another way. But the problem is, they've made us a promise that this pension would be there. They made us a promise when we first signed out contracts, some of us 25 or 30 years ago. Now they're saying, 'Oh no, that's null and void. That's not good anymore. We want to rework things... We want to go ahead and keep what we have.' They've not lived up to their end of the bargain. Senate Bill 1 is a way to try to restructure the pension, and we come out on the losing end. It's not just teachers, it's any support staff. Any personnel. Bus drivers. Cooks. Principals. Administration. It also includes firefighters, state police, city police... anybody that has a state pension. It's going to effect them in a very negative way.”
“Teachers don't pay into Social Security,” added Maria McGlone, a teacher at Carter City Elementary. This, she explained, was their equivalent.
Messer and McGlone said that the state needed to look at other options for addressing their funding issues.
“There are a thousand and one ways they could find funding for us, but they'd rather just look straight to the state employees and say, 'You're going to put more than your fair share in,'” Messer said. “I think the folks in Frankfort, let's start there. Let's start at the top two percent and work our way back down.”
“We love our students,” she continued. “We're not out here because we don't want to teach. The exact opposite is true. You don't become a millionaire by staying in the classroom. So you really have to have a heart for it. For us to give everything we have to our students, and then when we're older, and we need that pension, to have that extra little oomph... to then take that back. No. I don't think so.”
Mike Ross, from the local KEA office in Grayson, provided more information on the KEA's position on the proposed bill and their members concerns.
“(Senate Bill 1) doesn't fund pensions, it doesn't address some of the issues that most of the school employees have with, really, state government trying to push a lot of those costs back onto them,” Ross said. “So they've contacted a lot of the local union folks and the Carter County teachers are here today to show their displeasure with (Senate Bill 1).”
He said Merry Berry, Carter County Education Association President and KEA Eastern Region President, was key to organizing the event.
Berry, who also teaches special education at Carter City Elementary, said social media was very important to organizing the event.
“Facebook is our best friend,” she laughed. They also announced their intention to rally on the radio, she said. Old-fashioned word of mouth was also important.
“We talked to other unions, so we have support from them too,” she said.
She said the reason for the rally was simple.
“We want to keep our pensions,” Berry said. “We want to keep retiree's healthcare, and COLAs we've already pre-paid into. They shouldn't be cutting what we've already paid for.”
“I pay every month,” she continued, with car horns honking their horns in support in the background. “I pay already 3% of my paycheck, every month, to go in to pre-pay for my insurance (once I'm retired.) Now they're saying they don't have the money to pay for it. No.”
She said that the other reason they were out was to “raise awareness among the public,” of the issues facing state employees.
“What affects us affects those kids,” she said. “That's what it's all about.”