Thousands of teachers greet lawmakers at state Capitol
When Kentucky Sen. Julian Carroll made his way to the state Capitol on Monday morning, he and other lawmakers were greeted by thousands of teachers wearing red to show their support for public education.
“I couldn’t even get down Capitol Avenue,” said Carroll. “I had to go around Capitol Avenue because state police had it blocked off because it was all red from about half way up Capitol Avenue all the way up to the Capitol.”
While being interviewed late Monday afternoon, Carroll, a Frankfort Democrat who represents Anderson, Franklin and Woodford counties in the General Assembly, said if he were out in the hall of the Capitol instead of in a conference room, “You’d probably hear them (teachers) because they’re still here. And they’re still chanting.”
Asked if he had an opportunity to read the 291-page pension reform bill before its passage last Thursday night at 10, Carroll said, “No, absolutely not, because the changes came so quickly.”
He described the legislation, which he voted against, as a negotiated pension plan between Republicans in the House and Senate “that was dropped on us basically overnight.”
State Rep. James Kay, a Versailles Democrat, who also voted in opposition to the bill, agreed.
“It was brought (forward) in a surprise committee meeting out of nowhere, attached to a sewage bill,” said Kay. “It was obvious that they didn’t want to have an open debate or a transparent process…”
Asked if teachers should be upset with the pension reform bill, Kay said, “Absolutely. They should be upset because … despite what Republican leaders said, (teachers) were not at the table. This bill is a perfect example of ‘we know what’s best for you.’ When in reality, no one knows what’s better for teachers, and our schools and our students than our teachers, and they weren’t at the table.”
Kay predicted moving all new teachers to a cash-balance pension plan “will ultimately weaken the system to the point where they (Republicans) try to make a case down the road that they need to end the pensions altogether for teachers,” who are not eligible for social security.
Kay said he worries that the political attacks on public education and diminishment of teaching benefits with no prospects for a pay raise will “discourage the best and the brightest from entering the profession.”
“You will still have many people who will do it out of the love and the passion and the calling that teaching is,” he added, “but at the end of the day, there’s going to be some who … are not going to be able to make that career choice” because of low salaries and a lack of retirement benefits.
With no actuarial analysis, Carroll said lawmakers do not know how much savings will result from this pension reform bill in terms of reducing an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion in the state’s public pension systems.
“What’s going to happen to state government is that we are greatly reducing the quality of our workers to produce for the public good because we’ve not given them salary increases (and now retirement benefits are being cut),” said Carroll.
He and Kay (like Southside Elementary School teacher Keli Back; see related article) predicted Gov. Matt Bevin will definitely sign the pension reform bill.
“He is insistent that he has to have some way to cut these benefits … That’s his approach to (reducing the state’s unfunded liability). And it’s not the approach that is in the best interest of the teaching profession,” said Carroll.