Recently, a Facebook group commemorated the life of my high school homeroom teacher.She welcomed groups of teenagers for years at SCHS.
I remember going to her when I had clothing that was dysfunctional and needed safety pins or a needle and thread. She often baked cookies for her homeroom and always had a smile. The comments beneath the obituary came from generations of people who had warm thoughts and sincere empathy for her family.
This made me think about the many teachers who have served Shelby County Public Schools. Teaching in a small community is unique and rewarding, but challenging and difficult at times. Teaching becomes more than a career, it is a lifestyle.
You spend Friday nights working the gate for the football game or ringing a cowbell in the stands so you can tell the football players you have in class that they played well and you’re proud of them.
You spend an extra hour and a half in the grocery store having parent-teacher conferences in the frozen-food section and talking to the student who was out of school for a few days just to see if they’re feeling better.
You serve on SBDM committees, and budget committees, and grading committees. You direct plays, and coach teams, and raise more money that you make so that you can take a field trip.
You spend more time with the children of the community than their parents spend with them. You stay up late at night worrying about that call you had to make to child protective services, praying that a child is not harmed any more than you already know.
On Sept. 21 the Shelby County Education Association sponsored a meeting for teachers, instructional staff, firemen, policemen and county and state employees to address the issues that were presented in the pension oversight meetings.
All of these public employees work tirelessly for their communities. Recently, the governor has attacked these people for having exorbitant pensions. People who work for less than $50,000 a year doing the work that communities need and rely on – educating children, fighting fires, helping neglected children, making sure your roads are clear so that you can get to work when it snows.
In the meeting, we were relieved to discover that our representative will fight to keep the inviolable contract. Because there is no bill to discuss – nor anyway to discuss funding for any changes that might be proposed – teachers are asking for consideration of our career.
Placing new hires into a 401K would be the death of public education. Currently, we struggle to entice math and science minds into the teaching profession because of low wages. Take away a secure pension and what is left to entice people into the profession?
People ask me “What is wrong with a 401K?” and state “That many people have this for retirement purposes.”
Frankly, teachers do not make enough money to invest in a 401K. Moreover, teachers do not have the time to manage stocks or the money to pay to have someone manage their stocks to make sure that they earn as much as they can.
For a teacher a 401K will earn about $33,000 overall, where a defined benefits pension will earn teachers $36,000 a year until death.
Moreover, because of the WEP/GPO laws, teachers cannot collect social security even though they may have paid into it in their second, third and summer jobs that they do to make ends meet.
Teachers are harmed by this law if their spouses die first, because they cannot collect their spouses’ benefits. To put this into perspective, a beginning teacher in Shelby County starts at $37,000; therefore, a retiring teacher with two or three college degrees would make less in retirement than a beginning teacher.
Defined benefits programs make sense for teachers.
The other big idea discussed at the September meeting was the fact that we are putting the cart before the horse. Why would we discuss pensions when we have not discussed revenue to fund pensions?
Kentucky legislators must have a solid discussion about tax reform in the commonwealth before the discussion of how much we have or don’t have to fund pensions. Closing the loopholes that exist for corporate America, a one-cent increase on a sales tax with a sunset clause and other possible ways to generate revenue were discussed at our meeting.
However, citizens have to trust representatives and senators to do what is right. We have to trust them to fund a retirement program that they’ve refused to fund and stolen from in the past twenty years.
Public employees have paid our part into the system. Now it’s time for the state to ante up and do their part for the citizens who take care of the commonwealth. Don’t pass the cost onto counties and taxpayers.
One suggestion was to fund the workers the way the assembly funds their own pensions. We appreciate the public servants of Shelby County: our teachers, our firemen, our policemen, our EMS workers, our public employees.
When we read their obituaries, we remember the good times with them and appreciate their dedicated service and we don’t consider their life after retirement.
But maybe we should.
Cyndi Powell Skellie is the president of the Shelby County Education Association