KRTA: SB1, House budget proposal dynamic duo of smoke and mirrors, increase burden on teachers

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By Romanza Johnson
Kentucky Retired Teachers Association

Put yourself in the shoes of a typical Kentucky schoolteacher for a moment.

Romanza Johnson

You’ve spent the past 30 years teaching in the classroom, averaging 20 to 30 children in your class each year. Because some of your students’ families can’t afford it, you selflessly purchase materials and supplies out of your own pocket.

You spend countless hours beyond the classroom participating in other school activities, such as programs, dances, tutoring, grading papers, and being present in the community. You are a teacher, social worker, philanthropist, coach, mentor, psychologist, and unfortunately, in today’s current environment, you will possibly serve as a bodyguard.

For the past 10 years, you received a single, one-percent merit increase. If you earned a$50,000 salary in 2008, it now has$7,000 less in purchasing power thanks to inflation. Essentially, your pay is decreasing every year.

You knew going into this profession your earning potential was limited. Nevertheless, you were willing to make that sacrifice because of the positive impact your work would have on thousands of children and because you had confidence that the state had taken measures to ensure you had a safe and dignified retirement.

Now fast forward to 2018. For the past decade, elected officials in Frankfort used smoke and mirrors to balance their budgets, funded pet projects, and provided billions of dollars in corporate tax incentives– all at the expense of Kentucky’s public-pension systems. Meanwhile, teacher never skipped a single contribution from their paychecks.

The Teachers Retirement System (TRS)was nearly 100-percent funded in 2003 but now has been degraded to just over 50-percent funded in 2017 – a state of crisis.

Our state elected officials, many of whom worked in Frankfort while our public pensions were not properly funded, are now proposing pension reform measures designed to achieve most of their savings solely off the backs of our retired teachers through reductions intheir cost-of- living adjustments (COLA).

The proposed reforms also negate the inviolable contract we have with our government, which means future generations of politicians can — and likely will — indiscriminately raid our earned retirement benefits whenever they have to address a budget shortfall.

SB1 and the proposed House budget are a dynamic duo of smoke and mirrors, placing further financial burden on current and retired teachers. The House budget calls for funding its share of healthcare burden the first year of the biennium , and then allocates no money the second year requiring TRS to use in its medical fund.

This could cause the TRS medical fund to fall below 25 percent funding, which would trigger a one percent additional contribution – read pay decrease – for teachers because of SB 1.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a retired schoolteacher with an annual retirement payout of about $33,000 a year.

You’re five years into your well-earned retirement and you wake up to find out that your benefits will be stagnant for several years – costing you approximately $65,000 over your lifetime. Inflation will likely reduce the purchasing power of your retirement payments by another 15-20 percent. This is financially devastating for the average retired teacher.

Where is the sacrifice from Frankfort? Where is the sacrifice from our business community that receives more than $13 billion in corporate welfare each year? Why have we not considered pursuing additional revenue? How do you pass this proposed pension reform knowing that without tax reform, you could be asking teachers to bail out Frankfort yet again in another year or two?

The bottom line is that Frankfort politicians want “reform” so long as it doesn’t jeopardize their wealthy corporate donors or risk their ability to be re-elected. Any pension reform effort should be a “shared sacrifice” – not a unilateral effort to put the onus on teachers, who over the course of many years have fulfilled their obligations to fund TRS with the unfulfilled promise from Frankfort that it would do the same.

Romanza Johnson is President of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association

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  1. Marilyn Thompson says:

    After reading Romanza Johnson’s editorial in this morning’s paper, I am ready to march on Frankfort. No one wants to pay for our legislator’s mistakes (theft!) that have been forced upon us since 2003. I believe KY teachers will show up in numbers that will make WV ‘s strike pale in comparison. “A sleeping giant has been awakened.”

  2. Elvenia Boggs says:

    I am so totally with you. If we as educators retired or still active had made these “mistakes”, we would be in jail for misappropriation if funds. Let’s march. Stand up for what is ours.

  3. Jerry Wyrick says:

    Teachers strike and see how long it takes a bunch of angry parents who are having to miss work to keep their kids because there is no school, to help our government to realize something productive and FAIR must be done to restore our retirement. None of what’s happening is the fault of educators, who for the most part, purchase supplies out of their own pockets much of the time. If We had misappropriated money in this manner we would be looking at jail. Find funding and keep your hands out of the till!!

  4. Jerry Wyrick says:

    I think the solution may be for teachers to strike. Working parents would have to miss work AND stay home with their kids in a lot of instances. None of what’s happening is the fault of the teachers. Most spent out of their own pockets to buy classroom supplies. Money for many things we needed was not available. In addition, many of us donated our time to coach, or otherwise support the school activities that were not in the budget. What we definitely did do was contribute OUR share to our retirement fund. It was not misappropriated by US. If it’s not there it is NOT our fault. You need to find funding first, and put back what you “borrowed” out of OUR retirement!!!

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