Dear Gov. Matt Bevin, let me tell you a little something about my dad, who is a retired teacher. You’d like him if you knew him.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My dad, Mike White, was definitely the breadwinner in our household.
He was a high school social studies teacher, which is a job he did faithfully for 28 years. He was one of those teachers, who always got there early, and he often stayed late. He tried to make learning interesting by incorporating things like movies and documentaries that were relevant to the topics being covered in class, such as the movie “Glory” about the first African American regiment in the civil war.
To this day, many of dad’s former students will come up to me and tell me that he was either one of their favorite teachers or one of the best teachers that they had, or both. As someone who had him as a teacher for three classes, I wouldn’t disagree with that either.
At any rate, from the time I was a little kid, my dad always worked two and sometimes three jobs. Many days after school, he would go home briefly to grab a quick bite to eat, and then head out the door to Belk’s and a few years later Lowe’s Sporting Goods, where he often worked until closing time at 9 p.m. About half the time, he also worked either a half a day or a full day on Saturdays.
Often times when he got home, there would be papers to grade at the kitchen room table, lesson plans to be done, or homework for his graduate school classes so he could get his masters degree and rank one.
During the spring, dad would take a leave of absence from Belk’s or Lowes so that he could coach the school baseball team, which was a program he started in the 1970s.
As anyone, who is familiar with coaching, will tell you, by the time you factor all the hours that head coaches put in; they are lucky to be pulling in minimum wage for their work. It is a labor of love.
There is practice, games, finding someone to run the concession stand, and washing uniforms after games among other tasks.
My dad didn’t “work” on Sundays, or at least not at a paying job. He is a deacon at his church, served as a Sunday school teacher for a few decades, has been the song leader and at times even helped drive the church bus.
Governor, I know you are not originally from Kentucky so let me fill you in about something you might not completely understand.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s in particular, teachers didn’t get paid a heck of a lot of money. Let me illustrate my point. Even though dad worked two and three jobs when I was a kid, when I was in fourth grade our household income was still so low, that I qualified to receive a reduced price breakfast and lunch at school.
The number of students that qualify for free and reduced lunches is still used as a measure regarding poverty in schools today.
Over the past few months as talk of pension reform has taken place, there have been a lot of negative comments directed at teachers and retirees, some of which have come from you, governor.
Among the more irritating comments is that teachers are getting more than their fair share. Had my dad been getting more than his fair share during the 28 years that he taught, then he wouldn’t have been working two and three jobs when I was growing up just to make ends meet.
Nobody gets into teaching, or government work for that matter, to get rich. They know that going into it.
Part of the deal that the state of Kentucky and your predecessors made to teachers and other government employees was that in exchange for their relatively low income during their working years, the state would take care of them in retirement with a pretty decent pension and benefits. If the state didn’t want to pay these benefits to workers when they retired, then they should not have made that promise for so many years.
Governor, one of the reasons I voted for you was the fact that you were willing to tackle pension reform, and because of your promise that we have to keep our commitments to retirees and current workers.
Threatening not to pay their health insurance and to cut off the cost of living increases for our retirees, who are largely a group of senior citizens on fixed incomes, is not keeping that promise.
How does the state keep that promise given that the Kentucky General Assembly and previous governors have been derelict in their duty to properly fund the pension system for much of the last 15 years?
I’d start with passing casino gambling and dedicating about 90 percent of the proceeds from that towards shoring up the pension systems until they are fully funded. We already have betting on horse racing, the lottery and “historical wagering,” which are slot machines. It isn’t a stretch to add casino gambling.
I’d require current employees, who are in the pension system, to contribute 5 percent more of their salary towards funding it. Phase in a 1 percent increase annually over a period of five years.
Lastly, implement a policy that no pension system retirees get a cost of living adjustment for the first five years of retirement. No, this isn’t what the current workers were promised, but it’s a reasonable change that will reduce pension expenses for the state and it is something employees can factor into their decision about when to retire.
This doesn’t get us all the way there, but it would be a good start towards keeping the state’s promises. It would be a good start towards keeping your promise governor.