Pendleton Co. closes school to support teachers in protesting in Frankfort

“This is a terrible situation. I hope a fair resolution is eminent,” Jodi Bertram said. “Our children will suffer and each side will blame the other. We have talented, dedicated and passionate teachers and staff that have done amazing things for our children.”

After the General Assembly rushed the pension reform bill through both legislative bodies on Thursday, teachers in droves called in sick on Friday with what some dubbed “sewage flu.” Fayette County cancelled school after over 1,000 educators indicated they would not be in attendance. Campbell County closed after enough teachers called in sick and exceeded the number of substitute teachers they had to cover classes. Over 25 schools statewide were closed because of teacher absences. Manywho descended onto Frankfort on Friday.

KEA President Stephanie Winkler called for districts around the commonwealth to close and allow educators to be present as the legislators on their last day consider a budget, some sort of comprehensive tax reform and other bills.

Pendleton County Superintendent Dr. Anthony Strong released a text version of a call command that went out to parents on Sat., March 31 that announced that Pendleton County Schools would be closed on Mon., April 2. “This will allow not just public school employees, but also the public and their families travel to Frankfort to advocate for Funding for Public Education,”

“Although, closing school is the last thing anyone wants to do, one of the reasons for this decision to close school is because educators feel one of their main responsibilities is to advocate for the children of the Commonwealth. We have attempted every other means of communication, action, and advocacy. The budget proposed by our Governor results in a $1.9-million loss to our school district. We need to make sure the Legislature internalizes the importance of putting our kids and families first, as well as those across the Commonwealth.”

Senator Wil Schroder who represents Pendleton County and will be a focal point for the PC teachers supported the teachers. “It’s the peoples Capitol and everyone has the right to show up and let their voice be heard.”

It is the first time since 1971, that teachers’ actions have led to a closing of schools. At that time, teachers were on strike for five days over salary. It was settled when the teachers received a $600 per year raise.

On Friday before any discussion on the status of Pendleton County Schools being in attendance on Monday had begun, The Falmouth Outlook reached out to each of the school board members for their stance on schools around the state seeing teachers calling in sick to express their outrage with the pension reform bill passed on Thursday night by the legislators.

Both Cheri Griffin and Karen Delaney are former teachers and they both felt it was important to support the teachers.

“While I am normally not a proponent of sick outs or work stoppages by public employees, the speed and method used to pass SB 151 with pension reform through both branches of the legislature sent a shock wave among public workers,
especially teachers,” commented Delaney.

Griffin was matter-of fact when she texted, “I totally support our teachers, past, present and future!!”

“This is a terrible situation. I hope a fair resolution is eminent,” Jodi Bertram said. “Our children will suffer and each side will blame the other. We have talented, dedicated and passionate teachers and staff that have done amazing
things for our children.”

Board member Elmer Utz after initially declining to make a comment did text that “It’s just a shame that it (the pension system) was taking advantage of over the years by people who were out for themselves.”

Board Chair Shawn Nordheim did not respond to the Outlook’s request.

As Superintendent Strong has commented publicly several times, the Governor’s proposed budget cuts $1.9 million from Pendleton County Schools.

The uncertainty of the state budget is paramount at this time for the school administration and board are presently in the midst of preparing the budget for Pendleton County in 2019-20. The question is what revenue from the state will they be receiving.
One solace is that the House budget restores many of the programs and funding that the Governor’s budget had cut. Transportation funds were restored and revenue for Family Resource and Youth Service Centers were fully funded.
FRYSC’s were to see a cut this year but the House budget restored those funds and fully funds the programs over the two-year life of the budget. The House’s budget restored not all but many of the 70 programs that the Governor had proposed to cut.

In a Falmouth Outook exclusive interview with 78th District Representative Mark Hart, he felt confident that their version of the budget will be more consistent with the joint budget that will be released on Monday, April 2. Hart also pointed out that the House budget increases SEEK funding to over $4,000 which is the highest it has ever been. That funding is what each school system receives in funding per student enrolled in their school district.

For the Pendleton County superintendent, he was cautiously optimistic that the House budget would allow funding to stay that would prevent wholesale staffing cuts. But he did caution that student enrollment formula indicates staffing at each school not the budget. He did have concerns on the rumors floating around of funding charter schools and scholarship tax credits that would take dollars away from public schools.

Pendleton County Education Association will be reimbursing Pendleton County schools for use of the buses to transport the loads of teachers making the trek to Frankfort. Dr. Strong pointed out it is the same type of setup that allows the buses to be used for community purposes like the Wool Fest.

While many support the protest, there is a growing number who feel it’s too late and wonder where this outrage was when funds were being diverted.

Amanda Robbins Davis, who is in KERS which is the worse funded pension system and in danger of insolvency, posed that exact question on Facebook in response to a story about KEA President calling for a rally and was posted on The Falmouth Outlook page. “Where was this outrage for the last two decades? I am a state employee. 19 years in the retirement system. I have made phone calls and sent representatives emails for the last 17 years expressing my concern over the retirement and our health insurance funds. I don’t like the changes either but it’s better than the system going belly up and there being nothing for anyone.”

According to reports early Monday morning before the Outlook’s press deadline, Frankfort is bracing for one of the largest outpourings of protest in decades.

Ky. Press News reported early Monday morning that I-64 was backed up for miles with teachers trying to get to the Capitol. In addition, the two roads that lead from the exits to the Capitol are at a near standstill over the five-mile drive.

True to form for school districts, many around the state, including Pendleton County, announced that they would provide a free lunch through FRYSC programs to any student and/or family on Monday, April 2. They indicated they appreciated
the continued support of staff, students, families and community members in advocating for students and public education.

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