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Some school districts in Kentucky to close Monday as teachers protest pension overhaul

Posted: 5:50 AM, Mar 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-03-31 16:54:04Z
Some KY schools closed Monday over pension bill

COVINGTON, Ky. -- At least three Northern Kentucky school districts will be closed Monday after state lawmakers rushed through a pension overhaul plan.

Covington Independent, Boone County and Kenton County schools confirmed they'll be closed April 2.

Covington spokesperson Deb Vance said 180 of 271 teachers called to say they're taking a personal day on Monday. The day will have to be made up later, she said. In Boone County, Superintendent Randy Poe said a day off will let teachers and families travel to Frankfort.

"Drastic times call for drastic action," Poe said in a letter to parents. "Although closing school is the last thing anyone wants to do, one of the reasons for this decision to close school is because educators feel one of their main responsibilities is to advocate for the children of the Commonwealth."

The bill passed Thursday night preserves benefits for current retirees. Most benefits for current workers would also be preserved, but sick days would be capped after this year and will not be applied toward retirement. Some teachers would also have to increase the amount they pay to fund retiree health.

However, future teachers would not be guaranteed a set pension when they retire, and would instead use a hybrid 401(k) plan that requires them to contribute more.

 

"What this will do is cause fewer and fewer people to teach in Kentucky, and in our case they'll go to Ohio or take up another profession," Democrat Rep. Dennis Keene said. "So we will have a harder time recruiting teachers to teach in our classrooms."

Kentucky police officers and firefighters also stand to lose some benefits under the bill, according to Keene.

Kentucky's pension system is among the worst-funded in the country, according to the Associated Press. They reported that the state is at least $41 billion short of the money it needs to pay retirement benefits over the next 30 years.

Proponents of the bill, like Republican Sen. Wil Schroder, said it's necessary for Kentucky's long term financial success.

"A lot of people realized that something had to be done," he said. "Past General Assemblies failed to take action at all, and the problem only got worse."

Teachers have been vocal opponents to the bill, already rallying in Frankfort several times and causing it to be delayed previously. Several Northern Kentucky schools closed Friday due to teacher absences in the wake of the bill's passage.

The following schools were closed Friday due to excessive staff absences:

  • Campbell County Schools
  • Carroll County Schools
  • Dayton Independent Schools
  • Carroll County Schools

Dayton teachers protested Friday morning along Sixth Avenue. Watch video from Reporter Ally Kraemer in the player below.

Kentucky lawmakers defied angry educators and passed a pension overhaul Thursday night. The Kentucky Senate passed the controversial measure as crowds of protesting teachers cried, "Shame on you!"

Karen Fuchs has been teaching 22 years and works at Dayton's Lincoln Elementary. On Friday morning, she was protesting pension cuts but also budget cuts that harm students.

"When you cut the budget, a lot goes along with that. Textbooks get cut. The number of teachers we have gets cut and that is huge -- class size is huge," Fuchs said. "Teachers don't just teach anymore. Our role has expanded to parent at times, counselor at times, caregiver at times, so there's a lot that goes into it. As you can see, everyone out here, we're here for our kids."

After Friday morning's protest, Fuchs said the teachers planned to deliver food from the Freestore Foodbank to homes of students in need so they would have meals through next week's spring break.

When asked why schools would be closed, Campbell County Schools Superintendent David Rust said he’s not certain but said he’s “sure this has to do with the bill passage in Frankfort.”

Rust also said most of the absences came in Thursday night after Fayette County and several other districts in the state decided to close.

It was business as usual at Erlanger-Elsmere schools Friday. Teachers showed up for work, saying they didn't want to let their students down. But some said they plan to rally in Frankfort Monday, during their spring break.

"We wanted to show our students that, no matter what, we are here for them, even if it is causing harm to their teachers," teacher Nikki Nussbaum said.

Grant County High School also did not close, but 26 teachers called in sick, according to public information officer Nancy Howe. Parents received an automated voicemail from Grant County Schools on Friday morning advising them that their children would not receive an unexcused absence should parents choose to keep them home out of safety concerns with that many teachers absent.

"By the time we knew we had that number of people out, we had to consider how to hold school safely. If we say we're having school, we try to have it," Howe said.

She declined to speculate on whether Thursday's pension overhaul had anything to do with the teacher absences.

Reporters Breanna Molloy, Ashley Zilka and Ally Kraemer and Web Editor Austin Fast contributed to this report.