Educators, administrators want their voices heard as Kentucky's governor pushes pension reform

Districts plan a day off for special session

School districts across Kentucky are gearing up to take a day off from school so teachers and administrators can head to Frankfort if, or when, the governor calls a special session about the state's failing pension plan.

Gov. Matt Bevin has said twice in the last two weeks that he still intends to call a special session before the year ends, leaving the three weeks before the Christmas and New Year's holidays to rally the troops.

"We've got the worst pension plan in America," Bevin said on two radio broadcasts on iHeart Radio.

Depending on what happens with the legislature, educators (including teachers, administration and support staff) could face drastic changes, forcing many to retire at 27 years of service and causing an exodus of educators over three years across Kentucky.

Randy Poe, superintendent of Boone County Schools, said at least 45 of his 200 teachers would leave over three years. That could start as early as this summer.

"We could see a shortage of teachers in Northern Kentucky," Poe said.

Dennis Maine, superintendent of the small Silver Grove schools, said he's concerned he'll lose teachers to the bigger districts. "Young teachers get experience here, and a lot of open jobs will leave us short-handed," he said.

Bevin told WVHU in Huntington, Va., on Nov. 30 that he did not have a date for a special session and was still waiting for "all the i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed" on a pension proposal. Bevin does not want to wait until the regular budget session that starts in January.

"If we start mixing it with the budget, it's just going to be mayhem," he said.

Boone County, Bellevue and Ludlow schools are among those who have already OK'd a day off for politics in Frankfort; Newport's school board will vote Dec. 6. The plan, supported by the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, is so educators can go to Frankfort en masse so their voices can be heard. Each region has a day -- Northern Kentucky would head to the state capital on the Tuesday of an expected 5-day special session.

Kelly Middleton, Newport Independent Schools superintendent, said superintendents and school boards want to support the teachers who will take the brunt of the fallout from any pension revisions.

Pension plan options include a plan supported by the governor and legislative leadership. Bevin's plan would impact working teachers immediately, changing the retirement formula to limit benefits after a period. It would also roll into a 401(k)-type of plan, putting more of the burden on employees to save.

Several education groups, including the superintendents, the Kentucky Education Association and the Kentucky Teachers Association, support a shared responsibility plan that would impact new teachers the most, said Middleton.

"It keeps teachers out of Social Security," he said. Teachers also won't lose accumulated sick days through any revision. "Under the governor's plan, if you want those sick days you have to retire by July 1," he said.

Most teachers didn't want to talk openly about the pension, but retirees were vocal.

John Draud, a former teacher and superintendent in Ludlow, said Bevin's plan doesn't change much financially for the state. "It doesn't make sense to change the whole system if there's no significant changes," he said.

Draud blamed the legislature for the pension shortage. "The legislature did not put their share in for the last 10 to 20 years."

Dottie Miller, who taught in Kenton County school district, said Bevin's plan worries retired teachers as well. It proposes a five-year freeze on retiree benefits, which would cost her about $71,000 over a lifetime.

"When I decided to become a teacher, the pension plan was a big part of the decision," she said, noting that teachers are paid less than people with similar education and experience in the marketplace.

Middleton said everyone knows that the pension needs to be fixed. "But we, as educators, want to be a part of that solution," he said.

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