EDGEWOOD – Hundreds of public school teachers and supporters were at Dixie Heights High School’s gymnasium on Tuesday night to protest proposed changes to their pensions.
The proposal, unveiled a week ago by Gov. Matt Bevin, along with Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, would move new teachers and public employees into 401 (A) plan.
Current teachers and public employees would be moved into a defined contribution plan after 27 years in the current defined benefit plan.
Other changes involve current teachers paying an additional 3 percent of their salaries for healthcare retirement benefits, 1.5 percent of cost-of-living increases suspended for retirees for 5 years and dictates that future teacher retirees would not get a cost-of-living adjustment for the first 5 years.
Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler has a problem with the additional healthcare contribution and the cost-of-living freezes because she says teachers have already been paying additional funds designated for those items.
“Back in 2010, we had a shared responsibility plan that essentially pre-funded all healthcare for public school employees,” Winkler said. “We paid an additional 3 percent into that plan and now the governor is asking for all state employees to pay an addtional 3 percent towards retiree healthcare. Part of what we pay per paycheck is pre-funded COLAs for when we’re retired. 1.74 percent of what we pay now out of our paychecks goes towards those retiree COLAs.”
There is a fear among some that there will be a mass exodus of teachers eligible to retire if Bevin’s plan becomes reality.
Currently, 13,000 teachers are eligible to retire statewide, and Winkler says that it’s already hard enough to attract teachers to many districts
“I just talked to a superintendent in a rural eastern Kentucky county that could not find an elementary education major who would be willing to teach in his district,” Winkler said. “So, we have some obstacles in bringing in new teachers in the state already, so to put this new plan in place and taking a pension away on top of that as a financial benefit would truly lessen the attractiveness of teaching.”
Laura Schneider, a teacher at Simon Kenton and president of the Kenton County Education Association and Northern Kentucky Education Association says the rally was about a whole lot more people than just teachers.
“It’s about our administrators, it’s about our office staff, it’s about all of us, not just about us individually,” Schneider said. “This is personal, it’s very personal.”
Lisa Poor, president of the Campbell County Education Association, said that without the current pension many northern Kentucky teachers might consider crossing the river into Ohio if the current pension is changes to a defined contribution program.
“We know in northern Kentucky that are neighbors across the river sure pay a whole lot more for the jobs that we do than Kentucky does,” Poor said. “What will happen to education in this state if the plan proceeds as the governor has described it. Why would anyone in Kentucky teach in Kentucky.”
Winkler says that her hope is that before a bill in completed, educators as well as all state worker representatives get a seat at the table in looking for the best way to address the issue.
“Everyone have a seat at the table and figure out how we can share the risk to fix this pension problem for good and be committed to that,” Winkler said.
All northern Kentucky legislators were invited to attend the event but only four, Sen. John Schichel, R-Union, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Independence, Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Union, and Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder were at the rally.
The three Republicans told the crowd that they weren’t sure what was going to be in the final bill and were unsure how they would vote, while Keene got a standing ovation when he said that he that he would not support the legislation.