Op-Ed

Kentucky will lose competition for jobs if schools bear brunt of pension plan, says Fleming superintendent

At May Valley Elementary in Floyd County, principal Greta Thornsberry helped kindergartener Vincent Osborne with his shoelaces in 2015. Herald-Leader
At May Valley Elementary in Floyd County, principal Greta Thornsberry helped kindergartener Vincent Osborne with his shoelaces in 2015. Herald-Leader

The health of our public pension system is extremely important to Kentucky educationally and economically. As a state with a top-tier public education system, our success depends upon our ability to retain and recruit top educators and staff members. Unless you have had the privilege to be entrusted with the growth and development of our most precious asset, our children, it’s difficult to understand the demands of today’s educators fully.

As an educational leader, I must point out that our pension discussions often fail to mention how they might impact little Johnny and Susie. Parents, the ongoing pension problem will affect your child tenfold. The retirement discussion and ultimate decision must not leave Johnny and Susie with an inadequately funded educational system. School districts have already received and are currently making plans for increased contributions to the retirement fund for classified employees. What this means for Johnny and Susie will vary byistrict, but ultimately, as parents, you can expect dramatic increases in class size, fewer instructional assistants, reduced bus routes resulting in overcrowded rides to and from school, less after-school tutoring and much more. I hate to see what next year will look like for students when districts are saddled with additional burdens without extra revenue.

For the record, teachers, staff, and school districts have always met their obligations to the pension system. We realize that there are parts that need to be reviewed and reformed. For students to be globally competitive and ultimately attract industry to Kentucky, as Gov. Matt Bevin has emphasized (supported by public education), they will need an educational system which costs more. We cannot continue to ignore the rising cost of educating a 21st-century student. In 1993, districts received $2,420 from the state to educate each student. With the rate of inflation, the cost of providing a world-class education is dramatically higher and will continue to increase each year. Districts are required to contribute more to retirement, health insurance, utilities, transportation, salaries and instructional resources than in 1993, yet state funding for each student has only risen by $1,561 in 24 years. Think what you could purchase for a $1 in 1993, compared to what you can buy in 2017. There is a big difference.

The governor is committed to making Kentucky the most competitive state economically, vowing to put people back to work. As educators, we support this, because it helps little Johnny and Susie. However, school districts, with unfunded mandates and no additional revenue or funding streams, will be forced to lay off large numbers of employees. Though we need to be concerned with the state pension, we need to ensure that the solution does not negatively impact the quality of education for our childrlen. Ultimately, I am confident that our elected officials will somehow determine ways to solve the pension problem, but fail to fund education at the appropriate levels, thus creating more of a gap with neighboring states in regards to workforce competitiveness.

As educators, we must advocate for a stable pension system, but also, for a fully funded 21st century education system. If school districts continue to face unfunded mandates, like shoring up the retirement system without additional state funding, Johnny and Susie will not receive the services they need to be successful.

Fully funding education is the responsibility of the commonwealth and the price tag cannot continue to be placed on local school districts. I hope we do not have to tell Johnnie’s and Susie’s parents that they will be in larger classes, on longer bus routes, have fewer supplies and be limited in academic programs because districts were given the bill for the pension plan without additional revenue sources. We need to support the commonwealth’s public pensions, Johnny and Susie.

Brian Creasman is superintendent of the Fleming County Schools.

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