KTRS executive secretary: Pensions on the right track

MURRAY – A leader of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System said he believes the ship has been righted, provided state funding and return on investments continue an upward trend.

KTRS Executive Secretary Gary Harbin spoke at a meeting of the Calloway Retired Teachers Association held Monday at the Murray Woman’s Club. This was part of a statewide informational workshop series Harbin was coordinating.

“The good news of this session (the last Kentucky legislative session) is full funding,” Harbin said to a large crowd of retired educators and community members. “What we’ve got now is a place in the budget. That $500 million a year we need is there. We’re getting that money in and that money’s doing really good for you. Last year, at this time, we had $18 billion. This year at this time, we have $21 billion.”

Harbin added that the pension investment has returned more than 10 percent.

“We’re in really good shape right now,” he said. “The money has to keep coming in through the budget and our investment returns have to stay up, but things are ... better than they have been since I was first associated with the system back in 1975.”

He said there were several groups to thank for efforts made to turn around what has been called the most underfunded pension system in the country, from the KTRS board of trustees to legislators who voted for funding and the local groups of retired teachers that made their voices heard both at home and in Frankfort.

At the same time, Harbin acknowledged discontent among educators.

“I think the mixed emotions come about because there’s a perceived lack of respect for teachers,” Harbin said. “The funding is there. The funding is real, so that’s going to shore up the pension plan. If that funding keeps coming in the future and future legislators continue on with that funding, there is no crisis in teachers’ pensions.”

He said there are future hurdles that will have to be dealt with for the pension’s long-term viability, including an anticipated Kentucky Supreme Court decision on whether a pension overhaul passed by the state legislature earlier this spring will hold.

That plan would, in essence, move new teachers into a hybrid cash-balance plan rather than a traditional pension. It would mean less risk for the state but less of a guarantee for those investing in it.

In June, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the bill unconstitutional.

“The thing is, we have to keep working as if the bill did pass,” Harbin said, “because we have to have our systems up and going Jan. 1. If the Supreme Court upholds this legislation, we can work through this. We can get the changes needed to make this an even better piece of legislation than when it was passed.”

Harbin also said another issue could be what he described as a multi-million shortfall in health benefits. That includes the newest state budget not subsidizing family health care costs for those under 65.

“The other shortfall is the second year of the biennium,” he said. “We were so far ahead of projections that $70 million for under-65 coverage – that was the state’s portion of shared responsibility – was now going to have to be paid out of the 65-and-over pool.

“The next budget definitely has to include funding for the over-65 population. It has to not take money out of the over-65 trust funds and pay for under-65 health care coverage like it did in this budget. That will devastate the plan that was struck between the state, teachers and school districts in 2010 … the $70 million funding issue in the next budget is the biggest issue that we have left, as far as being able to provide benefits for teachers.”

From Cradle to Grace by Constance Alexander

    From Cradle to Grace     is an upcoming chapbook of poems about women and care giving and is in the pre-order phase from Finishing Line Press. The book will ship August 10, and pre-orders determine the initial press run. Order online at    www.finishinglinepress.com.    Click on Preorder Forthcoming Titles or Bookstore, put in my name (Constance Alexander), and voila!     "I love this little book. These poems are startling, profound, and enlightening. They give me the shivers, they're so plain and direct--not  dressed up. This exactness makes thrilling poetry, stuff that might be hard to bear if it weren't so funny. And true."     Bobbie Ann Mason, Author  In Country  and  The Girl in the Blue Beret

From Cradle to Grace is an upcoming chapbook of poems about women and care giving and is in the pre-order phase from Finishing Line Press. The book will ship August 10, and pre-orders determine the initial press run. Order online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Click on Preorder Forthcoming Titles or Bookstore, put in my name (Constance Alexander), and voila!

"I love this little book. These poems are startling, profound, and enlightening. They give me the shivers, they're so plain and direct--not  dressed up. This exactness makes thrilling poetry, stuff that might be hard to bear if it weren't so funny. And true."

Bobbie Ann Mason, Author In Country and The Girl in the Blue Beret

Teacher Appreciation Week

KRTA wishes to express our appreciation to all retired teachers as we near the end of national teacher appreciation week.  Kentucky's retired teachers remain a powerful, steady and respected presence in communities all across the commonwealth.  Donating over $22 million dollars worth of school supplies, canned food, and volunteer time in their communities this past year.

In retirement, teachers are active and engaged. You are volunteers who continue to create strong communities. You lead organizations. You educate and lobby policymakers. You are protectors and fighters  and your spirit was particularly visible this year, as retired teachers across Kentucky advocated for retirement benefits and education funding.

Thanks for all you have done and continue to do to make Kentucky a great place to call home.

- Tim Abrams, KRTA

 Calloway County, Murray Independent, and MSU teachers, current and retired, hold a rally in Murray.

Calloway County, Murray Independent, and MSU teachers, current and retired, hold a rally in Murray.

"The Gift of a Great Teacher"

As we celebrate National Teacher Appreciation week, all of us should acknowledge how important their work is.  In a letter to the Kentucky Democratic Party, Senator Morgan McGarvey (D) Louisville, asked the question: Perhaps you have a teacher that you would like to thank?

In the current climate in our state, with its Koch Brothers infused, Matt Bevin led, ALEC sponsored, Bluegrass Institute promoted attack on public education, teachers, and the teaching profession, many on both sides of the aisle have been disgusted by this unwarranted intrusion from out-of-state forces and their dark money.

Thankfully, Kentuckians have shrugged off this ridiculous campaign.

Teachers dedicate their careers to the lives of OUR children.  How many teachers have bought coats and gloves when their students were cold?  Paid for supplies out of their own pockets? Stayed late? Spent weekends attending sporting events, academic programs, and grading papers?  Challenged their students to be their best? Inspired their students to explore their dreams? Exhibited countless acts of selfless devotion to their students’ well-being?

There are many synonyms for a teacher:  tutor, coach, trainer, adviser, mentor, guide, and educator.  Teachers wear many hats and are some of the best multi-taskers in the world.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the teachers who had an impact on my life.

Miss Kaylor, my first-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Bristol, Virginia, who allowed me to be promoted to the second grade after a serious eye injury caused me to miss 30 days.

Mrs. Montgomery, my third-grade teacher and full-bloodied Cherokee, who was full of life and taught us how to do the twist.

Mrs. Greever, my fourth-grade teacher at my new school, Fairmount Elementary in Bristol, Tennessee, who was one of the funniest and most optimistic persons I have known.  I loved coming to school.

Mrs. Morefield, my sixth-grade teacher, who was a taskmaster where I mastered the love of learning.

Mr. Johnson, my seventh-grade English teacher at George W. Vance Jr. High, who taught me how to enjoy reading the classics of Dickens, Defoe, and Longfellow.

Mr. O'Dell, my ninth-grade Algebra teacher at Bristol Tennessee High, who gave us one “word problem” every night for homework. It taught me how to read, then transpose letters, symbols, and numbers for the words.

"Granny" Parlor, my tenth-grade Biology teacher at my new school, R.B. Stall High in Charleston, S.C., who inspired me to love the sciences.

Dr. Thomas Peake, my Modern European History professor at King College, who inspired me to major in History and Political Science.

Mr. Mohrfeld, a Political Science Professor at The Citadel, who made the U.S. Constitution and those court cases come alive.

Now, it's your turn.

If you have the opportunity, contact a couple of your favorite teachers and tell them how much you appreciate, admire, and support their professional work. Thank them for that priceless gift they gave you.

So, when the misguided politician comes after their dignity, their pension, or their profession, those teachers will know that you have their back!

And better yet, in November, send a message by voting to support teachers and public education in the next election cycle!

Upcoming CCRTA Meeting

Play ball!  As we round third base and head for home (home being the summer break), we have one more activity for this academic year.  Our final meeting for the 2017-2018 year is one week away!  We will meet at 9:30 for brunch on Monday, May 7th at the Murray Woman’s Clubhouse on Vine Street.  Please note the change from the usual time.

As retired teachers, we’ve had a pretty good batting average for the year with some singles, doubles, and home runs.  The gigantic home run of course was fighting off the draconian and disastrous changes that were proposed for the state’s pension plan.  The COLA was protected and there were no changes to current retired teachers’ benefits.  (Even the under-65 retired group will have their health insurance premiums covered for the next two years.)

We fouled off a lot of pitches along the way, particularly with regard to soon-to-be-hired teachers, but even there, I would have to count that as a double.  The proposed 401(a) plan would have been a total strikeout for new teachers, but the hybrid cash-balance plan (while not as good as a defined-benefit plan) is workable as long as it doesn’t deter young people from entering the profession.  So the result of getting that changed is a double credited to KRTA members.

On a net-tax basis, the tax bill should probably classified as a strikeout since it gives $20 million to cash-rich Humana and Yum Brands (and $80 million to all corporations), as well as large tax breaks to high-income individuals.  It also reduces the retired teachers’ exemption from $41,110 to $31,110, so there’s the potential of $10,000 of additional taxable income for some of us (at a 5% tax rate = $500 of additional taxes).

But the accompanying budget bill did come up with greatly needed money for the school systems, so let’s count the budget bill as a triple.

The game is just beginning, with many more innings to play in future years.  It will be a battle each year, but the teachers are energized and have begun to realize the tremendous power we possess when we play as a unified team.  The upcoming elections will determine how strong our opposition will be, but fortunately we get to influence that.

So the first inning is complete and we have a break before we hit the field again.  Let’s enjoy the respite and come together for some nourishment, reflection, and celebrating.

Our speakers for the upcoming program are the outgoing and incoming Presidents of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association.  (Not to be confused with the outgoing and incoming Executive Directors of KRTA, who were our speakers at the December meeting.  The President serves as a volunteer, the Director is paid.)  I’m sure they will have much to say about the recently completed legislative session.

No reservations are required for this meal since it will not be catered.  The brunch will be provided courtesy of our retired colleagues from the Murray Independent School system.

As with other meetings, Todd Hill will provide one of his talented music students to entertain us with beautiful background music as we dine.

Please note that the minutes for the March 26th CCRTA meeting are viewable here.

I hope you can join us!  Here are the details:

        WhenMonday, May 7th, 2018, at 9:30 a.m.

WhereMurray Woman’s Clubhouse at 704 Vine Street

What:  A presentation by the state-wide KRTA president

 How:   Just be here for the 1st pitch at 9:30 a.m.!

A final note:

The governor has stated that the teachers didn’t give up enough during this session – that they were selfish and didn’t do enough to solve the problem.  Our response:  Governor, during the upcoming elections, we’re going to bring a bigger bat to the plate!

 

Will Kentucky be the New Kansas?

The Kentucky Republican Party’s ongoing campaign to privatize virtually the entire
public sector of the Commonwealth continues unabated. This is especially true for
public education.

This is part of the national agenda that has sailed through Kentucky’s General
Assembly in the past couple of years – right-to-work laws, charter schools, vouchers,
and a pension grab by the same financial sector that caused the Crash of 2008! (See
also the removal of the inviolable contract for new teachers and a strong push for a
future 401-k type pension system that will pay millions in fees to the governor’s hedge
fund buddies.)

The first order of business is to weaken the educational systems like the GOP has done
in Kansa and Wisconsin. In Kentucky for example, the General Assembly now
contributes only 28% of Murray State University’s operating budget; leading its
president to talk about the forced privatization of the university system and raising
tuition. Students will be forced to depend more upon student loans and high interest
private loans.

As to the pension bill (SB 151) that the Governor just signed, government officials have
harped repeatedly on the theme that defined-benefit plans have a “structural problem”
(i.e., are flawed in design). While this statement is the SOLE foundation for their
reasoning that the pension funds need to be changed, they offer no proof to back up
this statement. In fact, defined-benefit plans are not flawed. At their core, they are
nothing more than a simple, short equation: benefits required = a required rate of
return times the size of the portfolio.

The argument that the pension problem is a “structural” problem is not true; the
problem is a lack of funding. The structural issue is a smokescreen to justify the
politicians’ desire to let private money managers take over the investment of the pension funds, leading to large fees for people who contribute heavily in election
campaigns.

This national agenda, now adopted by the Kentucky GOP and modeled after Kansa,
goes far beyond pensions. They want to privatize Medicaid and Social Security;
weaken minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave, and maternity leave; lower pollution
regulations; and reduce regulations in general – all while reducing taxes for the rich!
The 2018 General Assembly just reduced taxes by $80 million for businesses.
Economists will tell you that, in order to have economic growth, you have to focus on
productivity (and not just business tax reductions). This means maintaining an
educated, well-trained work force and improving infrastructure.

A Democratic Party alternative could replace Gov. Bevin’s ill- advised tax cuts with the
following priorities:

● Invest in education and health to unleash residents’ potential and boost
productivit.

● Launch public infrastructure projects to create jobs, spur growth, and promote
equit.

● Boost household incomes for shared prosperit. States can help families make
ends meet and improve children’s life chances with state earned income tax credits
and higher minimum wages.

● Clean up the tax cod. Scrapping ineffective special interest tax breaks, incentives,
and loopholes (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Erica Williams)

The tax cuts that state lawmakers have pursued have typically failed to produce
economic benefits for the broad majority. Such state tax cuts have squandered
resources that states otherwise could have invested in shared opportunity.

There is ample research that shows tax cuts to corporations and elimination of State
Income tax have a very small marginal effect on jobs and economic growth. (See
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Leachman and Mazero)

How do companies like large auto manufacturers choose the location for their plants?
Testimony from states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky has indicated that the
major factors are a well-educated workforce, proximity to a strong university, favorable
infrastructure, and quality of life in the area. Tax incentives are not the determining fac
In the words of Lt. Colonel Bill Cowan, a proud Republican and a retired teacher
and recipient of an Army pension, “the most reasonable and equitable solution is
to find new revenue sources... through changes in the tax code” which in our
view is to close the billions of dollars in giveaways is right on the mark.

Will Kentucky be the New Kansas?

Public Education in Kentucky

by
John R. Secor

so you think
your apology
for saying you
guarantee a child
will be abused
or take drugs
because teachers
walk out to protest

so you think
your apology
for calling teachers
“thugs” and “greedy”
because elected officials
are violating teachers’
1938 inviolable contract

so do you think
teachers are the problem
an obstacle to corporate
welfare, an impediment
to a new world order?

so do you think
this is government
of the people
by the people
for the people?

do you think?