Thursday, August 31, 2017

Open Letter to The Kentucky Legislature RE: Pension

Dear Governor Bevin and the Kentucky Legislature,

I am Kentucky born, and my adult life has been in service to the school system.  I am a fourteen year veteran of the Commonwealth’s education system. I have been a teacher, principal, coach, and central office administrator.   I love my job, and I am relatively good at it.   I hold three degrees, multiple advanced certifications, and have incurred significant debt in paying for the education necessary and required to do my job effectively.  I wake up each morning with purpose, and a love for our students.   The issue of the retirement system is dear to me, as I am vested in the system but have several years until I retire.  Decisions made now will effect the remainder of my life, and my family.  

My primary reason for working in education is that I love the work we do.  I am passionate about the success of our schools.  I love working with students, preparing them for their future self, and building communities of learners that are ready to grow a better commonwealth for us all.  I love my job, and cannot think of another profession that I would give my sixty to eighty hours a week.  As the principal of a school of 2,150 proud learners strong- my day isn’t a nine to five.  In fact, I give my building and students around 3,000 hours a year, gladly and happily.   I knew this going into the profession, and you will not hear me complain.  We know that teaching, and school administration isn’t a nine to five.  At the end of the road, mitigating these hours and promising us security in our golden years is our retirement.

Our profession is used to getting kicked and pecked at by those who see us as a soft target.  As Commissioner Pruitt said "We know we don't get what is due."  Our profession is sadly used to funding cuts, poorly thought out accountability systems, mandated tests that feed the wallets of corporations, less compensation than like educated peers, and scapegoating. We are used to being told we have the summer off, that we’re paid too much, or most recently we are “hoarding sick days” and gaming the system.  

You have painted educators as greedy money hoarders.  Shame on you for such a gross misrepresentation of our profession.  If we want to have that conversation, let’s have it.  As a teacher I would stay well past my time contracted, grading, working with students who needed extra help, and taking home mountains of paperwork.  The teachers I work with now don't stop at the bell.  On any given day there will be those who stay, sometimes an hour, sometimes three because they want to help their students succeed.  We can pretend they have the whole summer off, but we know that's not true.  We can pretend they clock in at 8 and leave at 2:30, but we know that's not true.  We know our profession puts in well past what is expected, because we love our jobs and want to see our students succeed.  We know our coaches make pennies on the dollar for the amount of time they dedicate to their activities.  Please do not paint our teachers as greedy money hoarders.

As a principal I basically LIVE in my building.  Last year I estimate my time spent in the school house alone to be over 2,800 hours, and doing the work of the schoolhouse at home another four to five hundred.  This is the norm of my peers.  I worked tired, I worked sick, and I showed up because it’s my job and our students need consistency in leadership.  Never once has “hoarding” sick days occurred to me.   For the privilege of leading a school building, my required degrees and certifications have put me in student loan debt that I will pay for quite some time.  If you can, find someone else who will happily work more than 3,000 hours a year, with our advanced degrees for what we are paid.  I'm not complaining, but please don't paint administrators, both principals and central office as a greedy money hoarders

There is nothing greedy about expecting what is due to us under law.  

Outside of my personal concern for this issue I urge you to consider the broader implications to our profession.  You tread on dangerous ground when you mettle with the retirement system.  We know it needs fixing, but be very careful how you execute this fix.  I can tell you, expertly that it is one of the biggest recruitment and retention tools in our profession.  Last year I hired seventy two staff.  This year I’ve hired thirty one.  One of the driving factors in new teachers is the pension, and for those of us already vested it is a huge component of why we choose this work, and remain in this work.  If you gut and shortchange the pension, we will lose quality applicants.  This is an undeniable fact from any study on pension reform.  We are already paid less than comparable fields with as much education, and removing the pension from this equation is shackling a system even further.   We already have a teacher shortage.  Ask yourself: do we want to make this problem worse?  

I have, for my entire career contributed between 11% to 13.5% of my paycheck, without complaint, faithfully each time I am paid into the retirement system.  By my rough estimate this is approximately $145,000 thus far over the course of my career.  I have never been late, and it’s always paid in full.  As a husband and father our financial security rests heavily on my retirement.  I and my peers have worked faithfully in our careers with the understanding that our contractual agreements would be honored.  There is nothing greedy about expecting what is due to us under law. 

You have a duty to honor the terms under which we have agreed.  There is a real and honest fear that we may lose what is promised to us in our inviolable contract.  Like any employer-employee relationship, teachers and school administrators accept our employment in schools based on assurances that we would receive certain levels of salary and benefits. More importantly, these assurances are in law.  The legislature must live up to its obligations  and continue to provide the benefits it has committed to provide for each of the years that we have already worked. Any retroactive reduction of benefits, including sick leave accumulation, would represent a breach of contractual obligations.

We have done our part faithfully, and it is your duty to fix the problem that we did not create.  You have the duty, Governor and legislature, to fix the retirement system without dipping into our pockets or throwing us to the wolves. 

The inviolable contract must be upheld.


Robert Fulk


1 comment:

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