Politics & Government

Bevin’s pension bill would end legal guarantee of paid sick days for teachers

School teachers attended a public meeting about the state pension crisis in September at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington.
School teachers attended a public meeting about the state pension crisis in September at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington. Matt Goins

Buried deep in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed pension bill is a paragraph that would eliminate the legal requirement for Kentucky school districts to provide at least 10 paid sick days every year for teachers and other full-time employees. Instead, the state’s 173 school districts each could provide as much or as little paid or unpaid sick leave as they chose.

The change has nothing directly to do with retirement benefits. And the Kentucky School Boards Association said Tuesday that it never asked for the language on page 386 of the 505-page bill.

“That provision is not something KSBA requested,” spokeswoman Mary Branham said. “In fact, we do have some concerns with it.”

In a prepared statement, Bevin’s office said it included the language in an effort to be helpful.

“This provision provides local control to school boards to determine teachers’ paid sick leave benefit,” Bevin spokesman Woody Maglinger said. “As their employers, local school districts are responsible for paying out sick leave when teachers retire. Policymakers thought they should also have the authority to establish a local sick day policy.”

If Bevin’s bill is successful, sick leave soon would have nothing to do with retirement benefits. Elsewhere in the legislation, new rules would prohibit school districts’ payments to teachers for their accumulated sick days from enhancing pension checks for anyone retiring after July 1, 2023. That proposed change has been much discussed at public forums.

But it’s Bevin’s attempt to end guaranteed paid sick leave that caught the Kentucky Education Association by surprise after the pension bill was released Friday evening. Speaking Monday on KET’s Kentucky Tonight, KEA President Stephanie Winkler said the governor is using the pension bill to weaken workers’ rights in ways that have nothing to do with pension costs.

“They just totally X’d (sick leave) out of the statute,” Winkler said on the program. “So now what are people supposed to do when they get sick? You know, we’re a profession that’s 85 percent women, who have babies, who need to take maternity leave. What are people supposed to do, just take off work without pay?”

School districts and their employees both are satisfied with the current arrangement on paid sick days, said state Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, a member of the House Education Committee.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Meeks said. “I would hope the governor would recognize the wishes of our school officials and our teachers and take that part out of the pension bill. Otherwise, the legislature should do it for him. Because I can tell you this is going to be a point of contention, and it will just make it that much more difficult for us to get this bill through.”

Bevin has called for sweeping changes to the public retirement systems for Kentucky’s teachers and state and local government employees, which face unfunded liabilities in the tens of billions of dollars, due in large part to inadequate state contributions over the last two decades.

Although he has a proposed bill to reshape the state’s public retirement systems, shifting future employees to defined-contribution accounts instead of traditional pensions, Bevin has not announced a date for a special legislative session to act on his bill.

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John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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