Robb Smith, superintendent of Bellevue Independent Schools, was getting attention on social media Wednesday for a passionate open letter he wrote Gov. Matt Bevin in response to critical comments Bevin made about teachers.
“There are no absolutes when dealing with humans, but I can confidently say 99 percent of the people with whom I have worked, and there are hundreds, are not the greed-fueled personalities you have referenced in your speeches. The professionals in our schools are altruistic in motivation and pure in practice. To characterize them as anything else is irresponsible and unjust. To say they are anything but compassionate and dedicated is to distort the truth,” Smith wrote in an open letter to Bevin that he posted on social media.
The letter can be read in full at this link.
Asked on Facebook Live late Monday about the possibility of an exodus of teachers sparked by possible sweeping state pension changes, including a proposal to raise the retirement age for teachers to 65, the governor, a Republican, said he is hearing a number of similar comments “threatening” thousands of classroom vacancies in the middle of the school year.
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Twenty percent of Kentucky’s 42,020 public school teachers are eligible to retire, but reported for work this month, the Herald-Leader reported.
“Frankly, if a teacher thinks so little of their responsibility and their obligation to their students and the families that they’re responsible to that they would literally walk out on their classroom, in their own self-interest, that’s an unfortunate decision I would certainly hope that a teacher would not make,” Bevin said in his video. “If you happen to be a teacher who would walk out on your classroom, in order to serve what’s in your own personal best interest at the expense of your children, you probably should retire. I’m being completely serious. If that’s truly where you are at this stage in your career, I wouldn’t suggest that being in a classroom is probably the best use of your time.”
Smith told the Herald-Leader he wrote his open letter to the governor in response because “I’m proud of my profession. I’m proud of the people with whom I’ve worked. This profession is a passion for all of us. I just want teachers to know that I support them and that we are all in this together.”
Smith’s small school district in Campbell County on the Ohio River across from Cincinnati has 100 total employees, about half of them teachers. Bellevue Independent has about 650 students in Kindergarten through 12th grade.
Smith said in his letter that “underlying reasons for the decline in our system are many: legislative neglect, longer life spans, and a recession to name a few. Regardless, the finger pointing need not overshadow the solutions. I can tell you who is not at fault: those of us who, in trust and good faith, signed up for a retirement system at the onset of our careers. Please turn your finger away from us.”
Smith said educators enter the profession despite “the modest life in front of us” a reference to public educators’ relatively low salaries when compared to other professional careers.
“Mr. Bevin, despite these flaws to public education, generations of Kentuckians have chosen teaching as a profession. The compensation for spending our professional lives giving back to our communities has always been relative comfortability in retirement. Most give over 30 years to the cause and only hope to get 30 more after it is over, albeit at a much lower rate.” the letter said.
“Behind the brick-and-mortar facades are schools full of the toughest, most resilient people I have ever known. I am a better educator and person because of these people. There are hundreds of thousands of students who are educated contributors to society because of these people. Despite attacks on our achievement, our character, and our motivation, we persist. Public education is an easy scapegoat. We get it. We knew this going in, but we did it anyway.
“I just ask that you honor the retirement terms we agreed to as beginning teachers and that you involve our organizations in discussions of any potential concessions,” Smith wrote.
Bevin has publicly complained about teachers using sick days to increase their retirement benefits, saying they are gaming the system.
Smith told the Herald-Leader that Bevin’s inference that teachers were hoarding sick days “sparked a reaction in all of us.”
“I don’t believe at any level that that’s the case. We are professionals who are committed to kids. Our sick days are banked because we are in the building every day.”
Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a comment about Smith’s letter.