Ky. teachers delaying retirement, pushing kids to other career fields

Published: Mar. 30, 2018 at 6:13 PM EDT
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Longtime teachers said they are rethinking retirement and even pushing their kids out of the education field after Thursday’s vote from the legislature. As for how this ends or when this ends, it’s anybody's guess.

As we already reported, Kentucky lawmakers stripped the language of Senate Bill 151, which had been a proposal dealing with wastewater services, and added in much of the pension reform language contained in Senate Bill 1 Thursday night. Both houses quickly passed the 291-page document, not giving most lawmakers even a chance to read the bill before voting.

As a result, eight districts cancelled class in eastern Kentucky because there was a lack of teachers, as well as more than two dozen statewide.

The classroom was empty at Prichard Elementary in Grayson.

Cupcakes are ready to be eaten for the planned Easter party, but the students and teachers are missing. The Easter party is cancelled and teachers are in no mood to celebrate.

Votes in the Kentucky House and Senate Thursday night, led to about 100 teachers in Carter County, or about one-third of them, calling off sick by 5 a.m. Friday.

First-grade teacher Janie Potter teaches at Prichard, the same school she attended as a girl. This was supposed to be her last year here.

"There is no way I can retire," she said.

She planned to get a part-time job. But with healthcare increases and a less certain future, she’s holding off for at least two more years.

Her daughter is a high school senior.

"I talked my daughter out of teaching," she said.

Pension changes awaiting Gov. Matt Bevin's signature mean little to Potter. If left unchanged, there would be no $5,000 benefit for her survivors when she dies and there’s less sick time she can accrue for retirement.

But they mean everything for new teachers. Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, they would be put into a cash balance plan instead of a true pension starting in 2019, similar to what other state employees were placed into after 2014.

"She would have been a great teacher but with everything that is going on, I just said this is not the place for you as a career," said Potter.

By law, Kentucky teachers are not allowed to collect Social Security.

Third-grade teacher Rachel Harper worries she won't have enough.

"Now all these things are running into my head,” she said. 'What am I going to do?' We’re going to have to start saving another way because I’m not going to have the great retirement I thought I was going to have.”

Carter County Superintendent Ronnie Dotson said he's frustrated with lawmakers and the process, not his teachers.

He worries about the future. It's already difficult to find qualified math, language arts and special education teachers. Even elementary teachers which used to get 100 applications get about 20 these days, even with a generous pension system.

"Once you take that away, the certainly of that, then I think even fewer people will choose education as a career," he said.

As for cancelling school Friday, he said not a problem.

"I will support them as do the Board members in the district in whatever decisions they decide to take,” said Dotson. "Even if it means cancelling school."

Like most Kentucky school districts, there’s no school next week for spring break.

Both teachers believe there could be a strike or work stoppage a week from Monday.

“I think that possibly could be, yes," said Potter.

"I'm afraid it's looking like it,” adds Harper.

Republican leaders said Senate Bill 151 puts the state pension system on the path to stability and does not violate the state's inviolable contract with teachers.

But by maintaining the cost of living increase for retired teachers, which was one of the biggest sticking points of Senate Bill 1, instead of saving billions of dollars for taxpayers, they say it will save $300 million over 30 years.

Currently, Kentucky has one of the country's worst pension systems and is expected to face a 41 billion dollar deficit over that same time period.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said this does violate the inviolable contract with teachers and he will sue if the Gov. Matt Bevin signs. He also said the process violates state law by not having the required fiscal analysis of the bill before the vote.