Fayette County teachers on Thursday who participated in “walk-in” rallies to protest the pension bill that cuts teacher retirement benefits took aim at the latest criticism thrown at them by Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
During an interview Tuesday on WVLC radio in Campbellsville, Bevin called teachers who oppose Senate Bill 1 “selfish” and “ignorant,” comparing them to disloyal Americans who hoarded rationed goods during World War II.
SB 1 would end traditional pensions for future teachers and cut retired teachers’ cost-of-living allowances, among other cost-saving changes, but it now appears stalled in a legislative committee in the Kentucky General Assembly.
At one of several “walk-in” rallies held across Lexington Thursday morning under the direction of the Fayette County Education Association, Tates Creek Elementary Principal Carrie Paul said, with tongue-in-cheek, that she wanted to thank Bevin for uniting the state’s teachers.
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“There’s nothing more powerful than a group of teachers, and we are far from ignorant we are far from selfish. We’re looking forward to standing together and celebrating this noble profession,” Paul said before leading a march in front of her school.
FCEA President Jessica Hiler said she was disappointed that Bevin would “say those things about our teachers.”
“Teachers work hard everyday and that kind of disrespect from our governor is really disheartening,” said Hiler as she joined the rally.
During the radio interview, Bevin said: “This would be like people having mass demonstrations about, ‘No I want my butter, I want my sugar, I’m going to keep all my steel and my rubber and my copper, and to heck with the rest of you people, you better keep giving me mine.’
“That’s what it is, it’s the most remarkable commentary about who we are in modern times,” Bevin said. “It’s just straight up about wanting more than your fair share."
In Lexington, teachers are urging state legislators to vote no on Senate Bill 1 and fully fund K-12 education, Hiler said.
“Our teachers deserve what they were promised. We’re not asking for anything more,” said Hiler. She said her group also wants lawmakers to fully fund public schools.
“The governor’s budget is in play and we want to make sure that all of the cuts that he suggested are restored,” Hiler said.
Tates Creek Elementary teacher Daniel Hill carried a lighted sign and chanted support for teachers with the other educators in the early morning darkness.
“I feel hurt,” Hill said. “I feel ashamed that a governor would say those things about people that dedicate their life to serving other people.”
Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk rallied with the Tates Creek group Thursday and said Bevin’s comments were inappropriate and a mischaracterization of educators.
“I commend GOP leadership for sort of denouncing those comments,” Caulk said of Bevin. Caulk said there’s no reason to be divisive and engage in “name-calling.”
“It lacks decorum,” Caulk said.
“What example are we setting for our children?” Caulk asked.
“I don’t know the educators that he’s speaking of,” said Caulk. “It doesn’t apply to educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, educators in Maine or Pennsylvania, and definitely doesn’t apply to educators in Kentucky.”
The walk-ins at schools and other locations by members of the Fayette County Education Association, an educator’s group, follow events in which teachers in other Kentucky counties conducted similar walk-ins.
Motorists along New Circle Road blew their horns in support of FCEA members from Crawford Middle School and Yates Elementary School who rallied in front of Yates.
Margaret Czako, a Crawford teacher, held a sign that said, “Fund state pensions, raise revenues, and No to Senate Bill 1.”
Crawford teacher Shane Green said it’s unfortunate that Bevin “categorizes teachers into one lump sum.”
“I work four jobs just to try and make ends meet,” said Margaret Stevens, a teacher at Crawford. She carried a sign that said, “There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.”
Senate President Robert Stivers expressed doubt Wednesday that lawmakers will approve controversial changes to the public pension systems during the legislative session that ends April 13, possibly setting up a special legislative session later in the year.
Stivers said he understands that “many teachers are unhappy with the rhetoric of the governor” but added that Bevin has been the first governor in a generation to fully fund the state’s pension systems, which face an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion.
Teachers were expected to rally in several places in Lexington Thursday, ranging from schools to downtown at Triangle Park and the school district’s Central Office.
The Laurel County school district also planned to hold rallies and walk-ins on Thursday to show their opposition to Senate Bill 1, according to Kentucky Education Association officials.
Pam Elkins, President of the Laurel County Education Association, said the demonstrations were necessary because, “Our governor and some of our state legislators are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game. Additionally, we are facing cuts in several areas of the education system and our governor justifies those cuts by blaming the under-funded state pensions."