Fort Thomas Independent Schools are on their first day of Spring Break, which also happen to be Good Friday, but they held a walk-in to protest the cuts to education funding through Senate Bill 1 (pension) and HB 200 (budget). The budget bill, HB 200, is still in flux and could potentially include funding for construction of a new Johnson Elementary.
A house line item in that budget included over 10 million for the elementary school on the north side of Fort Thomas, but was removed from the Senate version with an increase for bonding capacity.
RELATED: Fort Thomas Education Community to Participate in Walk-In
Fort Thomas Independent Schools Superintendent, Dr. Karen Cheser, said that she knew that something had to be done to address pensions, but the way in which is was passed was concerning.
"I’m glad that something got done because we all realized that the pension system was hurting, but there are some definite concerns on what the bill means for new hires. While we don't have a lot of new teachers that are hired within our district, a 2% contribution from the district will be felt in 15-20 years when we do essentially have all new staff."
Cheser cited HB 539, the Shared Responsibility Bill, as a viable alternative. She said the bill, which had broad support, would have actually saved more money than Senate Bill 1.
The bill's passage seems to have caused a chain-reaction of school districts are closing on Friday. Fayette County Schools started the trend and it was followed up by local district in Campbell County, Dayton Independent and Gallatin County Schools.
Campbell County Superintendent David Rust cited excessive absenteeism for Friday's closure.
"Due to excessive staff absenteeism in our schools and the inability to adequately fill absentee requests," he wrote.
Supporters of the bill say it would help reduce more than $40 billion in unfunded costs to the state’s pension systems. It received final passage Thursday by a 22-15 vote in the Kentucky Senate.
Governor Matt Bevin is expected to sign it.
Attorney General, Andy Beshear, is expected to fight it.
One notable change to the legislation in recent days was removing a provision that would have reduced the cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers. The previous proposal would have reduced that adjustment from 1.5 percent to 1 percent, but there’s no such reduction in the plan lawmakers ultimately approved.
The goal is to stabilize pension systems that face more than $40 billion in unfunded liabilities. More funding is one part of the plan, according to the proposed state budgets both chambers have approved but, as of this writing, have not come to a final agreement on. Changes proposed by the pension reform legislation, Senate Bill 151, are aimed at shoring up the system in a number of ways, such as by placing future teachers in a hybrid “cash balance” plan rather than a traditional benefits plan and by limiting the impact of accrued sick leave on retirement benefit calculations.
Daniel Desrochers, from the Lexington Herald Leader summarized seven items teachers need to know about the pension bill:
Here are highlights of the plan that have a direct affect on Kentucky’s current and retired school teachers: