It was a chance to voice concern and ask questions, and
approximately 200 local residents—mainly educators—took advantage of
it on Tuesday, November 7 when State Senator Max Wise and
Representative Ken Upchurch hosted a town hall meeting focused on
Kentucky's troubled pension plan and Governor Matt Bevin's recently
About 200 people attended the session, which was held at the high
school gym, and more than a dozen asked questions and shared their
thoughts about possible solutions to what has been referred to as the
"unfunded liability" in the pension plan. Bob Barnes, who is with the
Teacher Retirement System, provided information regarding the
unfunded liability as the session began.
Barnes stated that the unfunded liability is $14.5 billion that will
be paid back over several decades, much like a home mortgage. He
expressed appreciation to the state legislature for funding
additional money last year, which would allow the payback to begin
for the unfunded liability.
Wise and Upchurch both gave opening statements before the crowd and
both expressed that there are parts of the proposal that they are
opposed to. Wise said this is an issue that he is taking seriously
since it affects "paychecks, families and whole communities."
Wise outlined some of his concerns with the current proposal, which
includes the requirement for teachers to pay an additional three
percent of their salary to fund their health insurance.
He also voiced concern about the part of the bill that limits
retired teachers to "100 hours" per month as substitute teachers.
Wise stated that the bill does not have the votes to pass the state
House right now.
Upchurch noted that last week marked the third meeting like this
that he had attended. "We have heard your concerns," Upchurch told
He noted that only the governor has the power to call a special
session and that has not been done yet. He added that the legislature
has the power to accept the bill, amend the bill or to reject it all
"Based on the many comments I have heard it will probably be
rejected all together," said Upchurch.
Retired Superintendent Dr. David Gover expressed his thoughts about
Bevin's proposed bill. "Throw it in the sinkhole and cover it up," he
said as he shared his thoughts. "You can't make this better."
He questioned both state legislators about the amount of money that
it will take to right the current pension plan, and Wise said that he
was working on trying to get that information.
Retired Superintendent Donnie Robison suggested that the state look
at other tax avenues to help shore up the pension plan—such as
increasing taxes on alcohol and tobacco. He noted that neighboring
states, like Tennessee don't have a person income tax, yet rely on a
higher sales tax, which is a possibility for Kentucky.
Wise and Upchurch both touched on the subject of tax reform, noting
that it is something that is long overdue for Kentucky. Wise said
Kentucky needs to make changes to become competitive with neighboring
Some of the other concerns were expressed by teachers who see a
shortage of candidates for classroom jobs now. Carol Ford, who is the
Media Specialist at Wayne County High School, indicated that 47
teachers in this school system could retire in July 2023. If they all
decided to leave because of the changes made the pension plan, she
stated that it would be difficult to find good, quality educators to
fill those vacancies.
Bell Elementary Principal Derrick Harris said that the number of
teachers applying for vacant jobs has declined significantly over the
years. A number of educators who spoke last week said it has become
even more difficult to find substitute teachers to help in classrooms.