Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard about the numbers and formulas that make up Governor Bevin’s proposed pension reform plan, but we have not heard how those numbers and formulas will affect the lives depending upon those pensions. At the pension information forum that was held at Rowan County Middle School on November 9, 2017, some of these personal stories were shared with Kentucky Senator Steve West, who was invited to participate in the forum. Please read on for moving statements from both Amanda Mason and Stacie May, both teachers at Rowan County Middle School.
865. That's how many kiddos I have been blessed to call my students since I began teaching a little over 6 years ago. And When I look around this room, I see faces of educators who have impacted the lives of thousands and thousands more.
Not just to draw a paycheck...
Not just to fill our days with something to do...
Not just to have the summers off... (now that's really a laugh)
We teach because we love our students… and care about their futures.
I am what one would consider a non-traditional teacher. I didn't begin teaching until my early 30s, after working in a different field for 7 years. I've experienced the career world outside of this profession, and I can tell you that being a teacher is the most challenging, physically and mentally exhausting, and
time-consuming job I've ever had.... but it is also the most rewarding. Outside of my own family and children, it is without a doubt, what I am most proud of about my life.
Yes, I devote hours and HOURS outside of my regular 8-hour work day to make sure my lessons are prepared, my papers are graded, my classroom instruction is interactive, and my students’ needs are met.
Yes, waking up in the middle of the night worrying or stressing about a student or specific task that needs completed is a weekly occurrence.
Yes, time with my own family… my own children is sacrificed for the sake of the needs of my school kiddos.
Yes, money out of my own pocket is spent to ensure my classroom is stocked with the supplies my students need to work effectively and stay engaged throughout the day.
But, in spite of all of those things, I still want to continue to teach. I want to continue to spend my days with awesome kiddos who, yes I help educate, but most of all, who show me the potential this world has to offer. Our youth are amazing, and they deserve the best this profession has to offer.
But, I also want to be able to financially survive.
The recently proposed pension bill will put an immediate financial strain on my dear little family of four... because you see, Mr. West, my husband is also a public educator. The proposed plan would reduce our annual income by 6%, and would significantly impact our current and future financial stability.
When considering the already less than stellar annual salaries of public educators here in Kentucky, every penny of our income is valued and budgeted. Our vehicles are already both over 10 years old (and mine may just also be missing its hubcaps as well as two lug nuts). We live in an old house. We don't wear fancy clothes. We don't go on lavish vacations. We don't spend money on extravagant things. But we still struggle to stay ahead. Because, let’s face it, public teachers in our state, especially in more rural areas, don’t make large salaries. It’s not a ‘recruitable’ part of the job.
And yet, the reduction in my current income is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my concerns regarding the proposed Pension Reform bill. Yes, I am concerned for myself, an almost ‘middle of their career’ kind of teacher, but I also worry for new teachers who may not even realize how this pension bill will adversely affect them, and I worry about the retired educators who are on a fairly fixed income, like my mom.
Many teachers, because we do not pay into social security, do try to invest in 401Ks or 457s in an attempt to supplement our retirement, but you see, teachers’ salaries do not lend themselves to enough investment of this type to actually count on as a sole source of retirement income. Even with the required contributions, it still would not be enough to support and live through potential market crashes like we have seen in the past. There is no guarantee. There is no security. Teachers in this state were promised a DEFINED BENEFIT, and that promise needs to be kept.
And, for those teachers who have already wonderfully served our Kentucky youth and are now in active retirement, what about them? They planned… budgeted… and prepared for their retirement based on the pension guidelines that were promised to them. My mom worked in education as a classroom teacher and an administrator for a total of 34 years…. And she was a dang good educator. It’s heart-wrenching to me to think about HER being impacted when she did EVERYTHING SHE was supposed to do… and the system will potentially fail her with this proposed bill by not honoring the defined benefits as stated in her contract. If her retirement decreases and her insurance increases, what is she to do? What are any retired teachers to do? Most of them are at an age that does not lend itself to easily finding additional employment… and is it even fair or reasonable to expect them to do that in order to financially survive? It is not.
When every single teacher in this room, every current and retired teacher in this county, as well as the entire state of Kentucky began our teaching careers, we were promised consistent, reliable, DEFINED retirement benefits. Every single one of us has upheld our end of the contract.... every single one of us have made our monthly contributions, and now, due to poor management by those in charge of our funds... the money we ALL have paid into the system, WE are the ones who will suffer under this proposed pension reform.
It is so disheartening that people won't fight for us, when we give up so much… so that we can teach, care for, provide for, and love so many.
And, although I feel we are in a time when teachers are respected less as professionals than we have ever been before, I think many of us are the proudest we have ever been to call ourselves teachers... because now more than EVER the youth of our state need us to help make a positive impact on their lives.... we are needed to help the children of Kentucky have the best possible chance to live fulfilled lives as they grow into successful adults in spite of all of the obstacles the current world provides.
And now, more than ever, Mr. West, we need political figures like you to support us in our quest to keep what was promised to us... our retirement... our hopes and dreams... our futures. We need OUR representatives to vote NO to the Pension Reform Bill and instead, work to find the funding needed to full-fill the promise that was made to us all.
I would like to take a moment to share some thoughts about our current pension situation – not from a political perspective or a place of anger but from a lifelong resident of KY, a wife, a mother, and a middle school teacher. There are feelings of uncertainty and sadness dwelling within me because my future hangs in the balance.
I entered this profession at the age of thirty-two after eight years of staying home to raise my three daughters. I have been teaching in Rowan County for nine years, and I’m currently finishing a master’s degree and pursuing a National Board Certification. You see, I am vested in my career. It sounds cliché, but I Love teaching. It is the most rewarding, fulfilling experience. As teachers, we get to meet, mold, and guide our future. I am honored to work with the children who will one day be our legislators, doctors, lawyers, and educators.
Some of the concerns brought about by the governor’s proposed plan are that our state will lose highly qualified teachers, and the ones who do stay will do so under undue financial duress. I would like to speak to the latter.
Presently, I have two daughters who are pursuing post-secondary educations and one who has already completed her program of study. My husband and I are both in the Kentucky pension systems, and we will bear the brunt of this plan’s fallout as we try to help our daughters pay tuition and living expenses while they pursue their educational goals and establish careers in their young adult lives.
An additional concern among educators is that Kentucky will no longer be able to attract passionate, capable people to serve our students. I can attest to the fact that this is already happening. How heart-wrenching it was when my daughter, a junior education major at Morehead State University, weighed her options and decided to leave education for a more stable career field.
Senator West, I love the state of Kentucky, and I am proud to be a part of the Rowan County School District. I understand that we are in the middle of a financial crisis, but Governor Bevin’s plan is not the answer. So today I appeal to you, as my voice in Frankfort, please say no to a plan that will have a detrimental effect on the very citizens who depend on you to do the right thing.