Justice teachers stage pension protest ‘walk-in’

At 6:45 a.m. Thursday, about 20 teachers participated in a “walk-in” rally at Justice Elementary School to protest a Senate bill that cuts teacher retirement benefits in an effort to fix Kentucky’s ailing pension systems.

The teachers are protesting Senate Bill 1, a bill filed to address the state’s $43 billion pension deficit. The pension affects teachers and state, county and some city employees throughout Kentucky. The bill would cut benefits for retired public school teachers including cuts to the annual cost-of-living raises.

Cheryl Peña, a first grade teacher at Justice and one of the organizers, said the walk-in was a way for the teachers to speak up.

“It’s not just a promise,” Peña said. “We sign contracts, and they (legislators) promise us they would do this for us when we sign on to be a teacher in Kentucky, and now they want to back out on that promise.”

The revised Senate bill began moving through the legislative process on Wednesday when the Senate State and Local Government Committee approved it on a 7-4 vote. The bill is now headed to the full Senate. If it passes, it would then need to be approved by the state House before it becomes law.

Peña, who has been a teacher for about 26 years, said there are plans for more walk-ins and rallies at other schools. She said is concerned about new teachers, her retirement and insurance plans.

“We’re invested in this,” she said. “…Underfunding is not an option. Teachers are the foundation of all careers and should be valued as such.”

Peña said teachers are always working early and late, and she often has to spend about $1,500 a year on school supplies for her students.

Peña said if they have to, teachers will head to Frankfort to protest.

“(Legislators) need to think long and hard about what they’re doing,” she said. “It won’t just affect those teachers. It’s going to affect a lot of lives.”

The rally at Justice was one of 28 schools in eight counties, according to published reports. Other counties included Franklin, Garrard, Lincoln, Montgomery, Rockcastle and Woodford counties and Danville Independent School District.