Op-Ed

Scott County superintendent says pension liability won’t go away with Bevin’s plan

An educator’s shirt during a town hall meeting about the state pension crisis in the cafeteria at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington.
An educator’s shirt during a town hall meeting about the state pension crisis in the cafeteria at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington.

Education has been my life’s work. I chose this profession to make a difference in the lives of children. I knew that the job was hard but worth it. I also knew that after my career, I had a promise of a pension. My state is letting me down, letting down educators across this state, and jeopardizing the future of my profession and the future of our children.

I say to you, the “Keeping the Promise” framework is far from keeping a promise to a profession. There are better ways. Increasing revenue needs to be part of solving this shortfall. We should expand and continue conversations about developing a shared responsibility plan.

We believe it is important for Kentuckians to know that our cost-of-living adjustments were prefunded. Many do not know that 1.7 percent of our current Kentucky Teachers Retirement System contribution is set aside for future COLAs. A five-year suspension of COLA under the “Keeping the Promise” framework would have direct and dramatic impact on retirees. In that scenario, a 60-year old retiree making $3,000 a month would lose $71,000 of benefits.

We believe it is important for Kentuckians to know that the requirement for an additional 3 percent contribution from employees to fund retiree health care is simply a tax imposed on employees by the General Assembly.

We believe it is important for Kentuckians to know how allowing for the “top 3” vs. the “top 5” is actuarially sound and good for both employees and the system. When 102 KAR 1:220 was adopted in 2004, KTRS saw the average retirement age increase from 52 to 59. This suggests that our highest paid teachers are contributing to the system rather than withdrawing from the system.

We believe it is important for Kentuckians to know that suspending pensions when retirees return to work in any public sector capacity is detrimental to retirees and everyone else. For example, 51 of our current substitute teachers are retired teachers and we still cannot fill our daily needs for subs. What about our classified staff who seek jobs with city and county government and vice versa after retirement? What about retired school and district leaders serving in interim leadership positions throughout Kentucky? What about retired school and district leaders serving as faculty members in our public university graduate schools?

We believe it is important for Kentuckians to know that much confusion exists due to the inconsistencies between the “Keeping the Promise” document and what we heard during the press conference and since. We need answers to questions regarding: service credit multipliers, top 3 versus top 5, 3.0 multiplier after 30 years of service, and the legal provision incorporating sick leave payout into our final average salary calculation.

We don’t need to apply a one-size-fits-all solution to all eight public pensions. The various pension plans do not have the same level of unfunded liability. KTRS and the County Employee Retirement System (CERS) are not in crisis. We need a more thorough analysis with full collaboration and more transparency to develop long-term, sustainable solutions for the KTRS and CERS pension plans.

When KTRS and CERS are funded, the systems work. If they had received the actuarially required funding over the past 12 years, we would not be engaging in these conversations.

We should not support any plan that impacts current retirees and current employees; doing so will not eliminate the liability and will only create additional problems. With Gov. Matt Bevin’s recent proposal, the pension liability will remain, as it is today, an obligation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This obligation still must be paid.

Our impassioned advocacy for pension reform has had an immediate impact. Your continued advocacy on this issue will make a difference. Your personal emails and phone messages will make a difference. Your face-to-face conversations with our legislators will make a difference.

We hope you will help us advocate to ensure we are able to recruit and retain the most qualified teachers, leaders and staff for our schools and children.

Kevin F. Hub is superintendent of the Scott County Schools.

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