Calloway Teachers Protest in Frankfort

By PARKER FRANKLIN • pfranklin@murrayledger.com

FRANKFORT – A group of local retired and current teachers made their way to Frankfort this week to protest what they’re calling attacks on educators, including issues with Kentucky’s struggling pension system and the state budget.

Calloway County Retired Teachers Association President Marshall Ward was part of that group. He said he protested for a handful of reasons.

“Number one, teachers as a group have been blasted by the governor for the last six months, in terms of us being ‘selfish and unpatriotic’ and those kinds of things,” Ward said, recounting a public interview Bevin took part in last month. “We’re not going to take that anymore. It’s unprofessional and un-American to attack a group of teachers.”

Ward said the group also made the trip to protest budget threats to education, including teacher pensions.

The Kentucky legislature passed tax reform and budget bills earlier this week. While educators are getting some of what they lobbied for, including the removal of some public education funding cuts and untouched cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers, there are still sticking points.

One of those, Ward said, is how the pension bill that passed was handled. According to media reports, much of its language was hidden in an unrelated bill about sewage services.

“We were very concerned that this secret, transparent process wasn’t democratic,” Ward said.

He said another major issue is a new hybrid pension plan that new hires will be subject to. The “hybrid cash-balance retirement plan” combines elements of a pension plan with investment options typically found in a 401(k) plan.

“It’s a good compromise, I have no problem with that plan. But what’s missing from that is called the inviolable contract,” Ward said. “Legislators down the road can completely change that later on. It’s not guaranteed. What are you going to do if the pension changes and it’s not something you can live on when you retire?”

He added that while retired educators are happy that COLAs are untouched for now, there were other reasons they were protesting.

“Many retired teachers aren’t looking just for themselves, but as to the future of the profession,” Ward said. “What is this going to look like 10, 15, 20 years down the road if you force the new hires to have a pension plan that is not guaranteed?”

With a pension plan that isn’t set in stone, Ward said, attracting quality teachers becomes difficult.

“If you don’t fund your educational programs, you’re going to have a shortage of teachers, inadequate materials for students to work with, and the people who are here with young children may decide to leave,” he said.

“Teaching is more than somebody walking into a classroom,” Ward continued. “It’s about the process of inculcating values, preparing students for life, for employment and for being a good citizen. If you don’t attract some of the best and brightest in your community to do that job in the classroom, to be support staff, principals and superintendents, then your school systems are going to fail in their mission.”

Southwest Calloway Elementary School teacher Gina Crider – who noted her school is a nationally-recognized Blue Ribbon School – also made the trip to Frankfort this week. One of her main concerns is teachers and social security, or more specifically, how Kentucky teachers are not eligible to draw social security benefits.

There are two laws Crider is talking about: WEP and GPO, short for windfall elimination provision and government pension offset.

According to the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet, those laws are “designed to resolve inequities in the law that had, in the past, permitted some government employees to collect more in social security benefits than was originally intended,” according to its website.

“What it does, is for people like me who worked in the private sector – I worked there for 20 years – after a few years, it takes two-thirds off the top of my earned social security that I already paid into, and then I’ll get some remaining portion of that, depending on how long I worked,” Crider said.

Crider gave another example. If one half of a married couple makes $20,000 annually and the other person makes $60,000 while drawing social security, and one dies, the survivor gets the larger of the two. 

“That’s not true for teachers,” she said. “Just because our spouses marry teachers, their social security often goes back into the pool (if they die).”

Add in the new hybrid plan, and it gets even more complicated.

“We pre-fund our retirement far more than the private sector,” Crider said. “We know that going into it, but with the new system, it’s just going to be so hard to attract new teachers, and that’s our concern. At the end of the day, we just want to continue quality education in Kentucky. We want it to be a priority.”

Both Crider and Ward offered sentiments that issues like this won’t go away anytime soon.

“I wonder at which point we decided as a state that using our tax dollars to attract quality public servants became a bad thing. That is just hard to fathom,” Crider said. 

“There was political chanting. ‘We will remember in November,’” Ward said, referring to upcoming elections.

He added that Gov. Matt Bevin does have the option to line-item veto any part of the pension and budget bills before they’re signed into law. While the governor hasn’t publicly stated he’d do so, Ward said he isn’t optimistic.

“I would almost guarantee it (Bevin issuing line-item vetoes) he said.

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Protest in Frankfurt

 CCRTA President represents Calloway County at largest protest in Frankfort in decades. 

CCRTA President represents Calloway County at largest protest in Frankfort in decades. 

 Front (L-R) Gina Crider CCSD, Kim Phelps MCSD, Patricia Murphy MCSD, Claire Harmon MCHS,Dalton York MCHS, and Alec Foust UK student. Middle (L-R) Rhonda Wicker CCSD, Robin Brown MISD and KEA rep, 2 teachers from the upstate. Back (L-R) Marshall Ward Pres. CCRTA and Rob Ryan CCSD.

Front (L-R) Gina Crider CCSD, Kim Phelps MCSD, Patricia Murphy MCSD, Claire Harmon MCHS,Dalton York MCHS, and Alec Foust UK student. Middle (L-R) Rhonda Wicker CCSD, Robin Brown MISD and KEA rep, 2 teachers from the upstate. Back (L-R) Marshall Ward Pres. CCRTA and Rob Ryan CCSD.

If it Walks like a Duck

In the words of James Whitcomb Riley, a late 19th century Indiana poet, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck.”

Left unchecked, the Kentucky Republican Party’s ongoing assault on virtually the entire public sector will result eventually in the complete privatization or “corporatization” of our Commonwealth. “We the people” of Kentucky will be totally disenfranchised and will no longer be part of the decision-making process, or self-governance, which is what the Kentucky and U.S. Constitutions are all about. For decades, Republicans have been touting the idea of privatizing public services and running them like businesses – and now they are doing exactly that. The GOP likes to say that the word “democracy” is not in the Constitution. But neither are the words capitalism, corporation, or market, or any of the other ideas used to replace democracy. The founders could never foresee a future in which Americans were too ignorant to understand that democracy is what the constitution is all about.

Looks like a Duck

This past Thursday evening, Senate Bill 151 (SB 151) was introduced in committee by Rep. “Bam” Carney, an educator from Campbellsville, who struggled to put together a grammatically correct sentence. Carney took 10 minutes to cover a complex, 291-page bill that had arrived on legislators’ desks minutes earlier. My guess is, being a teacher, he was trotted out to carry water for the Governor for this revised version of SB 1, which failed to receive enough votes to pass. This was done in secret, much like you would find in an autocratic “banana republic.” Since it appeared minutes before the vote, there was no review, no hearing, no actuarial report, and was done in sledgehammer fashion like the one-party governance of the Old Soviet Union. This is what Kentucky governance controlled by outside, dark-monied groups like the Koch Brothers, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the Pegasus Institute looks like.

Swims Like a Duck

This is part of the national agenda that has sailed through Kentucky’s General Assembly in the past couple of years – right-to-work-for-less laws, charter schools, vouchers, and a pension grab by the same financial sector that caused the Crash of 2008! Not only has these “bought and paid for” Faustian groups gone after educators, they have rammed through a utility-backed anti-solar bill. It is expected that they will also install a very regressive sales tax that will hurt everyday working Kentuckians while greatly lowering property taxes and income taxes for upper-income citizens. As believers in trickle-down economics, they have obviously failed Econ 101! They will also target Medicaid (where many Kentuckians get help for nursing home care and healthcare), environmental regulations (like those controlling the new 120,000 pound coal trucks that devastate roads in Eastern Kentucky), voting laws, and of course police and fireman job security and pensions. Let’s also not forget the city, county, and state workers who help us get things done that many take for granted!

Quacks Like a Duck

A little-known fact is that one of these groups, ALEC, spearheaded the “Stand Your Ground” laws adopted by many states. When George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in Florida, the pushback on ALEC was significant. McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kaplan, and Pepsico dropped their sponsorship of ALEC. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation halted its grant the next filing period. These actions should speak loudly that ALEC’s agenda is not good for America.

ALEC is registered as a tax-free 501(c)(3) organization, a status that has been challenged by Common Cause and other groups because of the enormous amounts of money spread across all 50 states. The national agenda is far reaching: they want to privatize Medicaid and Social Security; eliminate minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave, and maternity leave; have freedom to pollute; and reduce regulations – all while reducing taxes for the rich!

In short, the grand design seems to be to create the lowest-wage labor force in the developed world and to make those greedy billionaires even richer.

In the words of John D. Rockefeller, “The way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets.”

It is a fact that Kentucky’s “Tea Party” Governor Bevin and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate “debuted dancing to the tunes played by the reactionary right- wing billionaire Koch brothers.” (Ron Formisano, C&J)

Must Be a Duck

In a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial on May 16th of this year, Rep. Jim Wayne from Louisville paraphrased a Gilded Age billionaire by saying, “We own Kentucky; we got it by buying the legislature, and we intend to keep it.”

The first order of business in “keeping it” is to weaken the educational systems like they’ve done in Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona, to name just a few. The idea is to starve universities, so scholarships will be few and far between, bringing in high interest-rate loans from the private sector; starve the K-12 districts through charter schools and voucher programs (which will make choice much more appealing); and finally to go after teacher unions who have historically been the watchdog for salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Interestingly, Wisconsin had one of the first public sector teacher unions. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is a Koch Brother stooge, went after their union and won a narrow victory that is a model for all public sector anti-union groups. Kentuckians are next on these groups’ agenda.

And finally, perhaps the last “cash cow” that the private sector wants to own are pension funds.

The fear-mongers have led many to believe 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 = the size of the portfolio times a required rate of return.

  • The benefits required are the future cash payouts to retirees; these amounts are fixed for each year in the future and can be estimated with a great deal of accuracy.

  • If the size of the portfolio decreases because, say, (1) the state skips its required annual payments into the fund for eight years, or (2) the stock market declines drastically like in 2008, the employer (i.e., the state) is required to put additional money into the portfolio. This did not happen, leading to a large underfunding.

  • If the rate earned on the portfolio is less than the required (or actuarial) rate of return, the employer (i.e., the state) is required to put additional money into the portfolio. This has not been a problem with the teachers’ retirement plan but it has been for other state employees’ pension plans. The state legislature did not put in its required share, leading to a further increase in underfunding.

So the problem is not a structural problem – it is a funding problem at the state level. If the state had followed national pension fund guidelines, we would not be in this mess that we’re in. Defined-benefit plans have worked well for decades across the nation as long as both employer and employee make their contributions according to the guidelines.

So when Senate Bill 1 (SB 1 – the original pension bill) was halted at the Senate’s committee level, the legislature pulled a fast one on Kentuckians. The House gutted the contents of a sewer bill named SB 151 and inserted almost all of the original SB 1 language in its place. With heavy-handed Republican leadership and without a single Democrat voting for it, the bill sprinted through both houses of the state legislature in a matter of hours. Rep. Bam Carney’s committee hearing was conducted at breakneck speed. Democratic lawmakers made objections, even declaring the vote to be in violation of a Kentucky statute that required an actuarial (financial) analysis. Yet, instead, members were asked to vote on a 291-page bill THEY HAD NOT READ. When the full House took up the bill, the deliberations were short and passed 49–46. A quick vote was taken, then on to the Senate where is passed 22–15. Slam, bam, thank you, Ma’am!!

This will inevitably be a Pyrrhic victory for the Republican Party in Kentucky. After being out of power for about a century, they have now been elected but have proven they cannot govern like our founding fathers envisioned.

To conclude, on this Easter weekend, all four canonical gospels of the New Testament in the Christian Bible have a narrative of Jesus expelling the merchants and the money changers from the Temple during Passover in Jerusalem, calling them a “den of thieves” because of their commercial practices and greed.

This should be a cautionary tale to all who would discount (1) the value of public service, (2) the professionals who provide us with education, training, safety, and administrative convenience, and most of all, (3) a tremendous pathway of the common good for all to transverse in this great Commonwealth, at least for now.

Tax cuts for the wealthy, anyone? “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.” From the song, Won’t Get Fooled Again, by The Who

Here’s how every Kentucky lawmaker voted on the pension bill

Sixteen Republicans split from their majority caucuses in the House and Senate to vote against Senate Bill 151, the scaled-down pension overhaul bill, on Thursday night. Not a single Democrat voted for the bill.

With solid GOP control in both chambers, the bill easily passed by votes of 49 to 46 in the House and 22 to 15 in the Senate.


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article207404819.html#storylink=cpy

7 things teachers need to know about Kentucky’s surprise pension bill

In less than nine hours Thursday, Republicans introduced and passed their controversial plan to overhaul Kentucky’s pension systems without the public ever setting eyes on the bill.

Here are highlights of the plan that have a direct effect on Kentucky’s current and retired school teachers:

▪ New teachers hired after January 1, 2019, will be put into a hybrid cash-balance retirement plan, where they will contribute 9.105 percent of their salary to their retirement plan, the state will contribute 6 percent of their salary and school districts will contribute 2 percent. Cash-balance plans are individual accounts that are considered less generous than traditional pensions but more reliable than 401(k)-style plans. The new cash-balance plan does not include a guaranteed 4 percent annual return for teachers, unlike the cash-balance plan offered to state and county employees who have been hired since 2014. It does guarantee that teachers won’t lose money on their investments.


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article207422044.html#storylink=cpy

America has a retirement crisis

"I know all eyes are on Washington these days, watching to see what the Trump administration and Congress will do next. But retired teachers in Kentucky, and in other states across the country, are focused a little closer to home. This is the time of year when state governments make budget decisions and pass laws that will affect the education, jobs, health care, law enforcement and more in our communities. Governors and state legislators will show what issues are most important to them as they balance many competing interests in difficult financial times."

http://thehill.com/opinion/finance/379497-America-has-a-retirement-crisis