Teachers gather in Frankfort over SB 151

Teachers and supporters gathered on April 2 at the Kentucky State Capital Building in Frankfort, Ky. to protest a new pension bill SB151. “Enough is enough!” and “Vote them out!” they chanted.

Emily DeLetter

Hundreds of people from counties around Kentucky gathered in Frankfort on Monday to protest the recently passed Senate Bill 151, a water sewage bill that was amended last-minute to include the state’s pension reform plan.

Senate Bill 1 was originally designated as the pension reform plan. The 291-page Senate Bill 151 is listed as “An act relating to the local provision of wastewater services,” but the entirety of the bill is dedicated to the pension reform plan. The bill was passed by Kentucky lawmakers late Thursday evening and will land on Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk to be signed or vetoed.

If Bevin signs Senate Bill 151, teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2019, will not be placed on the traditional pension plan. Instead, they will receive “cash-balance retirement plans that would invest retirement contributions from employees and the state and guarantee that the plans wouldn’t lose money during a stock market crash,” according to WFPL.

Current public school teachers would lose the money they had put into KTRS, the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. KTRS is the current retirement policy for public school teachers, which includes every public university in Kentucky except the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

Protesters gathered in front of the capitol building chanting phrases, such as “120 strong” and “united we stand, divided we fall.” Many of the public schools not closed for spring break this week were closed to compensate for the absence of teachers who took off to rally in Frankfort. People also gathered at the capitol to protest on Friday.

Marilyn Hoffman-Elrod is a retired first grade teacher who taught at Garden Springs Elementary School in Lexington for 32 years. Elrod said although she was retired, she still felt it was important to protest to “show solidarity with other teachers”.

“We want to get the word out about what’s happening here,” Hoffman-Elrod said. “Most people don’t understand the importance of this bill. Kentucky is nothing without our public schools.”

Bevin has previously been a vocal supporter of the pension overhaul. After the bill was passed in both chambers, Bevin tweeted, “Tonight 49 members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road … anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men & women who did the right thing.”

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear disagreed with Bevin’s approval of the bill, and he appeared on the Capitol steps to speak to protesters.

“Today we’re seeing democracy,” Beshear said through a megaphone. “You call this governor disgusting? I call him one and done.”

Beshear also told the crowd he planned to sue if the bill passed, reiterating a video statement he posted earlier.

The Kentucky Education Assembly said they would join Beshear in the lawsuit.

Shelbyville senior Katie Vogel said she was protesting today to support her mother, a teacher, and to fight for the future of Kentucky education.

“It’s unfair because teachers have been paying [into KTRS] for years,” Vogel said. “Public school is so important. Students don’t just learn reading and math. They learn how to make decisions and choices that influence the future.”

Vogel, a music education major and student-teacher, said it has been difficult for other students teaching in public schools to feel optimistic about their futures.

“When you feel like you’re not respected for the important work that you do, sometimes you can question if it’s worth it,” Vogel said.

Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton expressed his disappointment with the bill in a message on the Warren County Public Schools website.  

“Whether you attend them or not, public schools are the cornerstone of every community across the Commonwealth.  School districts just lost their last significant incentive to offer future employees; a guaranteed and modest pension. This is undeniable, regardless of which side of the aisle you sit,” Clayton said in a statement.

Jeanie Smith, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Drakes Creek Middle School in Warren County and a candidate currently seeking a democratic nomination for state senate in the 32nd district, said she was impressed by the large turnout at the protest.

“The energy in the rotunda was crazy,” Smith said. “It was packed with people demanding to be heard.”

She said she believes around 8,000 people came to Frankfort to protest.

“Even though we were loud, they weren’t listening,” Smith said. “I wanted to tell them that education is one of the best investments we can make for the future of this state, community, and children, and to continue to deny proper funding from preschool to higher education is putting our communities at risk.”

News reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyDeLetter