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With Teachers Headed Back to Frankfort, NKY Republicans Explain Votes

Multiple local school districts in Northern Kentucky are joining others around the state in closing school on Monday as teachers descend upon Frankfort to protest proposed cuts to education.

Teachers are already upset with last week's pension bill that passed late Thursday night.

Campbell County and Gallatin County Schools joined Dayton in shutting down on Friday. On Monday, Boone and Kenton County Schools were joined by Covington and Ludlow in shutting down for the day as teachers took the day off to protest.

Other districts, like Erlanger-Elsmere, are on spring break but express solidarity. 

"As you know the Erlanger-Elsmere Independent School District is on Spring Break next week. However, in collaboration with the Erlanger-Elsmere Ind. Education Association, we will have several teachers and other employees in Frankfort on Monday, April 2nd, choosing to stand up for our students and school funding on their own time," the district posted to its official Facebook page. "Many student supports and programs are at-risk of no longer existing if funding is not provided. Our response comes after Friday’s press conference with the Kentucky Education Association that requested schools come to Frankfort on Monday and close schools if needed."

Bellevue Superintendent Robb Smith was harsher in his criticism of Northern Kentucky legislators, posting to Twitter, "As is consistent across the state and nation, the majority of NKY families depend on public education. Yet, most of our local legislators voted in favor of negatively impacting teachers. Makes me wonder who they really represent."

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Smith also thanked State Rep. Dennis Keene (D-Wilder) who, along with State Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington), voted against last week's pension bill.

"On behalf of Bellevue Independent Schools, thank you @DennisKeene for having the courage to stand for teachers when other Campbell County politicians refused. We applaud you and will address them in November," Smith wrote.

A letter from Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services, signed by Smith as board chair, suggested that all seventeen public school districts in Northern Kentucky are unified in protesting what was characterized as a lack of respect and a lack of funding.

An article in the Herald-Leader said that last week's pension bill takes an extra six years and $5 billion to pay Kentucky's debt. That prompted Campbell County superintendent David Rust to tweet, "Nice work, legislators! This is what happens when you rush the passage of a bill without having it properly vetted! So, we dismantled new teacher benefits for this??"

But Northern Kentucky's Republican legislators are defending their vote.

Senator Wil Schroder (R-Wilder), in a lengthy post to Facebook, started by remembering a visit to his high school political science class by a state legislator who said the easiest way to get re-elected was to do nothing. "Being in Frankfort the last four years, I have seen that he is right," Schroder wrote. "It would be far easier to vote no on every bill of controversy, but that is not why I ran for office. We are in this mess because of legislators failing to do anything for years. Our state and our teachers, both current and retired, cannot afford for us to continue to ignore this problem. (Thursday) I voted for structural changes that will help get our state back on track."

Schroder argued that nothing changes for retired teachers with the new pension bill and that changes for current teachers and state employees include the capping of sicl days starting January 1, 2019 and will no longer be applied to retirement to get a higher salary average. Members of the Kentucky Retirement Systems who started their participation on or after July 1, 2003 and prior to September 1, 2008, will contribute an additional 1 percent to fund retiree health, Schroder explained.

Future teachers will be placed in a hybrid cash balance plan, the same plan implemented for all new state employees since 2013, but with higher contribution rates, the senator said.

But will the changes make it difficult for Kentucky to attract new teachers?

"With or without pension reform, the answer to this question is most likely yes," Schroder wrote. "Without changes, many potential teachers in Kentucky are not attracted to the idea of investing their retirement in a system that is uncertain. However, all across the nation, the amount of new teachers are declining. This concern is not unique to Kentucky. Just as we need to be concerned about all of our state employees who are greatly underpaid, we need to be concerned about attracting teachers. However, by ignoring a problem that is unsustainable and is consuming over 14 percent of our state budget, we were never going to get into a position where we could one day consider raises, etc. Also, many of the concerns of teachers are not unique to education. All across the state are jobs that we need to make more attractive in order to retain a qualified workforce."

The plan, Schroder said, stops digging the pension hole and places the teachers' pension plan on a path towards sustainability.

State Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) also explained his vote. He said there was a need for it, arguing that Kentucky has an unfunded pension liability between $40 and 60 billion.

He emphasized similar points as Schroder did, noting that current teachers will only see a change related to the capping of sick days and that new teachers will be placed into a cash hybrid system in which 17 percent of salaries will go into the plan for investment. 

 

"This plan insures that there is no loss," Koenig wrote. "If the value of a teachers investments go down, the state (i.e. the taxpayers) will make up the difference to bring it back to zero. When investments go up, the teacher will receive 85 percent of the gains."

"Emotions are high and there is so much misinformation out there. Also, sadly, we live in a world where civility seems to be dead, or on life support. I ask that before you make wild accusations or insults, you inform yourself first. Given this is Easter weekend, maybe wait until next week to research and enjoy family, friends, church this weekend."

Rep. Addia Wuchner (R-Florence) said that she feels bad about combining the pension bill (Senate Bill 1) with a sewage water bill (Senate Bill 151) but that the work needed to be completed.

"I honestly wish the timing of the passage could have been different, but we were running out of time in the 2018 session," Wuchner said in a statement. "After months of wrangling, once we had agreements on the issues that had been so critical to our teachers and retirees, we had to act. The General Assembly is confined by a very defined structure and process. The method of passing the bill is not new.

"I realize how confusing the repurposed SB151 must seem and apologize for the subject matter of the original repurposed bill Senate Bill 151 was offensive. In the legislative process with a title amendment and committee sub, the original subject or purpose of the bill, disappears. The bill itself SB151, becomes the bill jacket number and the vehicle to move a very important matter of legislation forward in the legislative days remains."

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher