Letcher County Central High School math teacher Paul Boggs wrote the following letter to members of the Kentucky General Assemblly regarding the current pension crisis facing teachers here and elsewhere in Kentucky.
I am a math teacher at Letcher County Central High School. To an outsider, it’s a relatively unimportant school in an unimportant city in an unimportant county of the Commonwealth. To the roughly 1,000 students and 120 faculty and staff members though, it is their world. Unlike the richer parts of the Commonwealth, we don’t have industry, manufacturing, fine homes, places to go out for a fancy dinner, or even a theater to go watch a movie; but what we do have are our schools. They aren’t fancy. They aren’t shiny and new. We don’t have new books or new computers, and our sports teams don’t have nice new uniforms; but we do have good teachers.
We are those teachers; human beings that put our hearts and souls into taking any and all students, regardless of who they are, where they came from, or how smart they may be, and teaching them to read, write, and do arithmetic. We teach them science and history. We teach them arts and humanities. We teach them all to be functional members of society to the best or our (and their) abilities; but we also do so much more.
We teach them to tie their shoes, and to cover their mouth when they cough. We teach them social skills, and how to behave. We teach them how to play ball, and to get along. We wipe their noses when they’re sick, and comfort them when they’re hurt. We take them outside to play, and huddle with them in closets and corners when danger comes. We are invested in our kids. They aren’t just products to be pushed through to the next grade, they are our children; living breathing kids with the same faults and virtues as the rest of humanity.
As teachers, it would be nice to think that our Governor and Legislature thought as much of us as we do our students; but I don’t believe that to be the case. We don’t ask for much; not even a pat on the head or a “good job.” What we would like, though, is a little respect for what we do, and to not be discarded like yesterday’s trash after a lifetime of service. We literally give our blood, sweat, and tears to our jobs, and to have our Governor and some members of our Legislature demean us, and look at us and our pensions and healthcare as simply a “pool of money” that can be dipped out of at their leisure — like some alpha lion using his muscle and position to take food from his subordinates rather than hunting himself — is disheartening to say the least.
Teachers know up front that they won’t make much money. We take these lowpaying jobs with the knowledge that one day we will be able to retire with a modest pension and adequate healthcare. If you take that away, I see a mass exodus of those seeking a career in education. Other than the warm feeling you get from a job well done, the only other thing that makes being a “career teacher” worthwhile is the knowledge that eventually you can retire, and in ten years or so bring home the same amount of money from your pension that you do now.
I fear for the future of our Commonwealth if the proposed pension bill passes in its current form. I fear for the retirees who must go find other employment because their pensions won’t keep pace with the cost of living. I fear for the current teachers who have worked many years without a substantial raise. I fear for the future teachers who will be working for a “pension” that may not support them through a significant portion of their retirement. I fear for our schools because our supply of quality teachers will no doubt go to other states or to other professions, and because the financial reserves of many districts will no doubt be depleted within two years. Most importantly, I fear for our children. As the older generation of teachers begin to retire, I look for the teaching ranks to fill with those searching for “temporary employment”; either teachers who are emergency certified or transient teachers who stay only until a position opens somewhere with better benefits and a better retirement – never staying long enough to become invested in the school or its students.
To you, the legislators of our great Commonwealth, I beg you to reconsider the cuts made in the pension bill. On the surface, and from a certain point of view, it may seem palatable, but I can assure you that the real dangers come from what its writers have failed to foresee. While the financial numbers may match the desired outcome, the toll on schools, teachers, retirees, and students will be immeasurable. What will you do when the old teachers have retired, new teachers can’t be found, and 30 percent of the school districts in the state are forced to go bankrupt because they can’t find the funds to both make payroll and to pay all of the new financial burdens (both directly and indirectly) placed on them by the pension bill? Will you finally address the need for new sources of revenue, or will those schools, teachers, and students merely become acceptable losses in order to gain a political win?
We are not pawns! WE ARE PEOPLE!
Paul Boggs Math Teacher Letcher County Central High School