Teachers in WAVE Country, Frankfort demand change with pension bill

Teachers in WAVE Country, Frankfort demand change with pension bill
Many teachers in Kentucky called out sick on Friday to speak out against the pension reform bill in Frankfort. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Scott County teacher Katie Williams said she was in Frankfort because teachers deserve full retirement. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Scott County teacher Katie Williams said she was in Frankfort because teachers deserve full retirement. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Alayna Harris, a teacher at Westport Middle, said the bill is "a slap in the face." (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Alayna Harris, a teacher at Westport Middle, said the bill is "a slap in the face." (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Male High School teacher Laura Rhea spent part of her day off picking up papers she'll need to grade over Spring Break. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Male High School teacher Laura Rhea spent part of her day off picking up papers she'll need to grade over Spring Break. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Brent McKim, President of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Brent McKim, President of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Many educators around the state of Kentucky were off from school Friday calling for change at the capitol after thousands of teachers called out sick.

Before 5 a.m., Jefferson County Public Schools made the decision to cancel class after nearly 1,300 teachers called out sick. The district said they expected hundreds more to add to that total.

Teachers in districts around the state joined that call to action in Frankfort, leading many other districts to join JCPS in closing down Friday.

Many teachers at home and in Frankfort hope to see the call off from class bring change.

"I wasn't expecting to have a day off today. I didn't want to have a day off today," Laura Rhea, a government teacher at Louisville Male High School, said. "But that's what we have to do to get people to understand the position that we're in."

Instead of joining her coworkers who called out sick to be at the capitol, Rhea was back at school Friday picking up about 200 papers she'll need to grade over spring break. She said calling out sick is a decision that currently impacts the retirement that she hopes to use in a few years.

"I was told that 120 sick days would roll about $15,000 into my retirement compensation. That's a huge deal," Rhea said.

Rhea shared the same sentiment with thousands of Kentucky teachers that promises made to them are not being kept.

"You know, I worked hard with the promise that at 55, if I upheld my end of the bargain, I could retire and do so, I wouldn't say comfortably, but I'd at least be able to support myself," Rhea said.

"We won't back down," teachers chanted inside the capitol rotunda in Frankfort on Friday.

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Thousands of teachers from JCPS and around the state planned for the "sick out" since the sewage bill became the pension bill on Thursday. Through social media on a secret Facebook group, teachers were able to discuss plans to call out to better protect their positions at the schools while defending their teaching benefits and pensions at the capitol.

Many teachers stressed that lawmakers voted and pushed through a plan before they or anyone else could read it.

"I'm here to oppose Senate Bill 151 because it takes away from teacher's retirements, it takes away from our pension and a pension is a promise," Alayna Harris, a JCPS teacher at Westport Middle School, said.

"I think it is sewage, just like it was tacked onto," Katie Williams, a longtime preschool teacher in Scott County, Kentucky, said. "This is an important issue because teachers dedicate their lives and they deserve to have a full retirement."

Despite taking the day off of school, teachers were busy working toward what they believe is right.

"Schools closed down but we're out here fighting. And it's not just for us; it's for what our kids need and for teachers coming into the profession to keep on professing strong," Dylan Paul, a teacher in Fayette County, said.

"I think it's a slap in the face," Harris said, talking about lawmakers sudden movement on the pension plan.

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim said they didn't call for the "sick out," but he understood their frustrations.

"It's not so much about the bill so much as it is the disrespect teachers are feeling from the governor right on down," McKim said.

Instead, McKim said he wants teachers back in Frankfort on Monday, pushing for changes to the budget bill that funds their retirement system and for schools.

>>> WATCH: AG Beshear plans to sue, stop pension reform bill

Teachers said they'll continue to stand and fight, and call out if necessary to demand better from lawmakers or they'll demand better in the future.

"We will remember in November. You vote now, we vote later. We're serious about that," Rhea said.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said Friday the bill cuts benefits for teachers and other public servants, adding that he plans to sue over the bill filed Thursday night.

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