Kentucky teachers rally for their pensions in Frankfort

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Teachers from across Kentucky rallied for their pensions outside the state capitol Monday evening. 

Senate Bill 1 would change the state's public employee pension plan, creating a 401(k)/pension hybrid and cutting annual cost of living increases. 

Dozens of Northern Kentucky teachers carpooled down to the rally. Lisa Poor of the Campbell County Education Association said they're worried about their pensions.

"If this legislation were to pass, there would be no teachers in Kentucky," Poor said. 

The bill could save taxpayers about $3.2 billion over 20 years, according to state officials. But it's drawing the ire of thousands of educators, like Campbell County Schools librarian Jill McGlone. She said she's been to the capitol three times this session.

"It makes a humongous difference in the quality of professionals you are going to attract," McGlone said. "For those of us who are like me, 15 years in, very invested in the system, to change the rules in the middle is scary. It's incredibly unfair and definitely breaking a promise."

The bill was dealt a blow Friday when it was sent back to a committee. It may not make it through the legislative process before the session ends in eight days. But the state is projected to be at least $41 billion short on what it needs to pay in retirement benefits over the next 30 years, the Associated Press reported.

"This is something that will not just have one quick leap and it will be solved," Kentucky Senate president Robert Stivers said. "This is something that will have to take place over 15 to 20 years."

He insisted Senate Bill 1 should pass as a precursor to these later changes. Poor disagreed.

"If something has to be done, Senate Bill 1 was not the legislation to do it," Poor said. "So if they have to come up with something else, then that's really for the best."

Newport Independent Schools superintendent Kelly Middleton said he thinks cuts to funding for pensions and schools will make it hard to hire teachers. 

"Some of this hurts teachers so badly, I'm worried no one will go into the profession," he said. 

Middleton said the district is prepared to cancel classes in order to send support to rallies protesting the cuts. 

"We're talking about clubs and sports and special area classes and para-educators and assistants and, possibly, teachers," Poor said. 

Poor and McGline know the squeeze well. As librarians, they already have to work in multiple schools because the district can't afford one in each. 

"We're definitely getting to a point where teachers are demanding to be heard," McGlone said. 

Some teachers said they're willing to strike like their counterparts in West Virginia, but striking is illegal in Kentucky. The only way it could happen is if superintendents agreed to close the schools. 

Teachers at the rally Monday said they didn't expect it would be their last time. They planned to come back every day until they were satisfied legislators heard their message.

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