The public education advocacy group Pike County Strong is asking teachers to call in sick Thursday night in order to close schools Friday and allow teachers to rally in Frankfort.
In Fayette County, public schools Superintendent Manny Caulk invited everyone to go with him to Kentucky’s Capitol Friday to fight for issues important to Lexington schools.
State lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort Friday and Saturday for the two final days of this year’s law-making session.
Caulk, who was attending a school board planning meeting Monday, would not say immediately after the meeting whether he will cancel school on Friday as he did on March 30 after teachers called in sick so they could rally in Frankfort.
Caulk cited Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of the legislature’s proposed two-year state budget and a tax bill that generates hundreds of millions of dollars to help fund it.
“Where do we go from here? I can tell you where I am going and hopefully you will go with me,” Caulk said. “We’re going to Frankfort on Friday to make our voices heard and to insist the fight for justice, the fight for equity still continues. That’s a fight not only about our educators, it’s about our children and families.”
“That is where I plan to be and I hope you will be there with me,” Caulk said.
A Pike group official said the effort in that Eastern Kentucky county goes against the wishes of the Kentucky Education Association, which has taken a cautious approach to school closures that is frustrating many Pike County teachers.
“(KEA) did not want us to announce that we were calling for a walkout on Friday,” said Patricia Lea Collins, a Pike County Strong administrator and the director of Pike County Schools’ Head Start program.
Collins said many Pike County teachers wanted schools to close all week, and that the group’s announcement gave teachers a plan of action that includes rallies and meetings throughout the week, culminating with the rally in Frankfort.
“Teachers on Thursday night need to start calling in with that sewer flu so that (Pike County Schools Superintendent) Mr. Adkins can cancel school Friday and get us there,” said Megan Smith, a teacher at Belfry Middle School, during the group’s video announcement.
Without Pike County Strong’s announcement Sunday night, Collins said, many teachers would have called in sick Monday, closing schools throughout the county.
“They were getting radical,” Collins said. “They wanted to make a statement.”
The “sewer flu” refers to the move by House Republicans to attach a proposal to overhaul the state pension system to Senate Bill 151, a bill that had dealt with sewer regulations. The proposal, which lawmakers approved before giving the public a chance to read it, would place teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2019, in a hybrid cash-balance plan at Teachers’ Retirement System of Kentucky rather than a traditional pension and would require them to work longer before becoming eligible for retirement. The “inviolable contract” that protects reduction in future employee benefits would be limited to account balances in the cash-balance plan.
During a news conference Monday, Gov. Matt Bevin said it would be a mistake for Kentucky teachers to walk off the job.
“It’s illegal for them to strike in this state,” Bevin said. “I would not advise that, I wouldn’t, I think that would be a mistake.”
In a Facebook post Monday evening, the Jefferson County Teachers Association asked its members to “not to engage in any collective actions tomorrow that would cause schools to close.”
“The public supports teachers and the Governor would like nothing better than to be able to paint teachers as the villains for repeatedly closing school and interfering with students' learning. Please do not play into this negative narrative,” the Jefferson County group said.
Perry County Schools Superintendent Jonathan Jett said Perry County has no plans to close schools Friday.
“We’re not going to do anything unless it’s a statewide initiative” Jett said, adding that the actions of a couple individual districts will not have much bearing on schools statewide.
KEA on Friday called for teachers to return to the classroom this week, and to continue advocacy efforts by talking directly with their elected officials. State lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort Friday and Saturday for the two final days of this year’s law-making session.
“Our students need us to show up for them in classrooms and schools,” the KEA statement said. “We urge educators statewide not to allow our united efforts to be compromised by continued calls for action that deprive students, parents and communities of the educational services we provide.”
When asked about work stoppages during a news conference on March 30, KEA president Stephanie Winkler said all options were on the table, but that state law prohibits strikes.
Bevin said Monday that KEA is “refusing to be part of the solution.”
Bevin said he will veto the legislature’s proposed two-year state budget and a tax bill that generates hundreds of millions of dollars to help fund it.
Winkler told the Herald-Leader Monday that KEA’s next step is to “to activate members to contact legislators to override the governor’s vetoes.”
Winkler said that, as a group, no teachers in any Kentucky school district failed to report to work Monday. She did not immediately comment on the Pike County group’s plans for Friday.
Fayette County Education Association President Jessica Hiler said she did not know whether Fayette County teachers would participate in a sick-out on Friday as they did on March 30, forcing the cancellation of schools.
Hiler said her group encourages teachers to be part of the legislative process and if they can go to Frankfort on Friday using appropriate leave time, such as a personal day, her group would support that decision.
Caulk said he wanted Fayette school children to have a brighter future than present.
Caulk told the Herald-Leader that he considered the Fayette County Education Association a partner.
“I do expect us to have a Fayette County presence (in Frankfort) on Friday and Saturday,” he said.
On Sunday, KEA issued a statewide call for people to “wear red for public ed” on Monday.