By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Local teachers and administrators were among thousands of educators who flooded Frankfort on Monday morning to protest Senate Bill 151.
Many who had opposed Governor Matt Bevin’s earlier proposed pension reforms were shocked and angered when Senate Bill 151, a bill originally dealing with “the local provision of wastewater services” was gutted and replaced with a reform bill similar to the unpopular Senate Bill 1.
The 291-page proposal was voted on late Thursday night with only two days left in the legislative session. After the bill passed, hundreds of teachers showed up in Frankfort on Thursday night to protest, with chants of “Shame on you!” Many of them promised to vote out of office those who voted for the bill.
Dozens of school districts closed on Friday, some because there were not enough substitute teachers to fill the void of teachers absent to protest. Others attributed their absences to “sewer flu,” alluding to the wastewater bill through which the pension bill passed.
Estill County schools were in session on Friday and were scheduled to be in session on Monday, but several local teachers called in “sick” to go to Frankfort to protest.
Although some parts of the original bill were removed in Senate Bill 151, there’s a lot about it that local teachers stronly oppose.
Lorene Clark, a retired Estill County teacher now working as a para- educator, was one of those in Frankfort on Monday morning, a sign in hand which read, “Something stinks in Frankfort.”
“It’s difficult to appreciate anything about a pension bill that was attached to a sewage bill and passed in the dark of night having not been thoroughly read by the leaders signing it,” she said.
“One thing that bothers me most is the negative affect the bill will have on Kentucky’s students in the future. I worry that a lot of high quality educators and people considering becoming educators will turn away from the profession, thereby negatively affecting our students,” said Clark.
“Teaching is difficult job. It requires a minimum of two degrees a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s. Many professions require less with a higher starting salary. The hours are long. Teachers put in countless hours that other professions don’t require,” she said.
“Add to this the fact that the bill will require new teachers to contribute to a 401k to be run by Frankfort (who trusts that)? The state will take 15 percent of the earnings from that. Teachers don’t contribute to social security.”
“I know of no other profession where employees contribute to a 401k but not also social security, so if the state runs the 401K the way they have our pensions, future teachers could end up retired, old and broke. Consider all this, and you can probably see why I worry for the future of our students.”
Jessica Dennis Mullins, principal of Estill Springs Elementary, also attended the rally on Monday morning.
“One thing that I do not like about the pension bill is that the changes made to Teacher Retirement for those hired under the new system make “teaching” a much less attractive career choice. The uncertainty of a sound retirement will drive many into different fields…thus weakening the pool of quality applicants,” she said. “I felt my role in the rally today was to take a stand for teachers past, present, and FUTURE! In taking my stand I ultimately showed my support for every student who deserves a quality education.”
Neysa Puckett, an Estill Countian who currently teaches at Waco Elementary, traveled to Frankfort on Monday to make her voice heard.
“It was heart warming to see the tenacity that all of our fellow educators and supporters had,” she said. “To me the worst part of the SB151 is that it offers no type of incentive or guarantee to future educators. It really concerns me that the commonwealth will not be able to attract and retain highly qualified educators. Our students deserve to have the best of the best while getting their education. This bill will seriously affect what type of educators we will have in our future.”
“I think our voices were heard…for now,” said Puckett.