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‘Teachers united, we won’t be divided’

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Community rallies for public education, future teachers

By Kacie Goode

The day after Gov. Matt Bevin signed a controversial pension reform bill into law, teachers across the commonwealth took to social media and other platforms calling for action. In Bardstown, the response included a rally of a few dozen teachers and community members on Court Square.

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“We can’t sit around and wait for someone else to stand up for us,” said Tiffany Parrish, a teacher with Nelson County High School.

The event, which lasted about an hour, was organized by Parrish and retired Bardstown teacher Larry Wilson, whose wife is currently a teacher in the city school system.

“I’ve got a vested interest in this,” Wilson said while addressing Wednesday’s crowd.

Wilson, Parrish and others took issue with Senate Bill 151 and some of its effects on future teachers, including requiring them to work longer before receiving full retirement benefits, ending inviolable contracts that prevent benefits from being amended in the future, and placing them into a “hybrid” cash-balance retirement plan rather than a traditional pension.

“We’re going to lose good candidates because of that,” Wilson suggested of the state attracting new teachers. Parrish agreed.

“I don’t want teachers going to other states,” she said. “I don’t want teachers in different pensions than what us older teachers are in. We are all in this together, and we’ve got to stick together.”

In a press conference Monday, Bevin mentioned that the pension bill “doesn’t even come close to solving the problem,” because it would only raise about $300 million over the next 20 years to address a $60 billion problem. “Which means 99.5 percent of the problem is going to be paid for and solved by people that are not in the system.”

Some participants also took issue with tax reform and budget bills passed last week, which were then vetoed by Bevin on Monday. Legislators have until Saturday to override Bevin’s vetoes, sparking plans for teachers and public employees to rally in Frankfort again this weekend. Opinions on the budget have been split across the state, with some upset over Bevin’s veto and others supporting it for different reasons. The budget bill would have supported some areas of education, such as boosting per-student state funding to $4,000 and funds for Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, but also would have zeroed out funding for professional development programs, textbooks and other instructional resources, among other effects.

The governor defended his decision on vetoing the budget, saying he “cannot support a proposal that ignores fiscal reality and continues to kick the can of financial responsibility down the road.” In his message, Bevin said there is still time “to develop a sustainable, fiscally responsible budget that will better serve the working men and women who bear the cost of funding our government.”

While opinions may have differed on some aspects of the legislation, those who attended Wednesday’s rally had a common goal of supporting public education and the future of local students. Many participants wore red to support educators, while others held up signs promoting support for public education in general or taking jabs at area lawmakers. Each participant had her own reason for coming out that afternoon.

“I’m heartbroken over what is going on right now. I want to do as much as I can,” said Bardstown Elementary School teacher Katie Hanson as she held her 4-year-old daughter. “I want to see a better change for my girls and all of our kids.”

Patience Turner, a high school junior, spoke about the importance of teachers and the need for Kentucky to be able to recruit new, young teachers in the future who can establish needed relationships with students to help them succeed.

James DeWeese, who is running for the Democratic nomination for the 50th District House seat, has two children in local schools, and told the crowd he was the only candidate backed by the Kentucky Education Association, the statewide teachers union that Bevin has criticized.

“We need the public education system to be fully funded,” DeWeese said. “We need to be able to attract the best teachers out there not only for my kids but all the kids. Education is the great equalizer. It can lift any child out of poverty and we need to protect it, we need to fund it and starting today, we need to fight for it.”

The local rally preceded an event in Frankfort on Friday, which led Nelson County Schools to dismiss early so teachers could take part. Bardstown City Schools are still on spring break until next week.