FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- An education-focused group asked Tuesday for school districts to send employees to the Capitol during this year's legislative session as a voice for those who will be affected by pension reform, budget cuts and other issues that touch classrooms throughout Kentucky.

More than 50 gathered at the Capitol rotunda for a rally sponsored by Save Our Schools Kentucky, which laid out its "3-4-5" proposal in hopes that school districts across the state will send employees to Frankfort as the General Assembly meets.

Lawmakers are poised this year to consider a pension reform plan that would move toward 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans and draft a budget with many needs, most notably increased pension contributions, but not enough projected revenue.

As envisioned in the "3-4-5" plan, three employees from elementary schools would be sent to the Capitol from school districts, with middle schools responsible for four workers and high schools responsible for five. 

Gay Adelmann, acting president of Save Our Schools Kentucky, said the group came up with the idea after school superintendents proposed that districts cancel a day of classes so teachers and other workers could lobby against pension changes during a special session that never materialized last year.

She said having a daily presence at the Capitol would provide "an in-person reminder" for lawmakers as they consider not just pension reform during the legislative session, but also a budget in which some areas that had previously been shielded from cuts, such as state funding for school districts, might not be so fortunate in the upcoming two-year budget.

"The pension and all these cuts are that important that we need a steady presence from every district across the state lining our halls, wearing black and holding signs, making sure that as legislators walk from their offices to the chamber, they reminded that we are watching, and we will be voting in November according to how they vote in this session," Adelmann said after the rally.

After speaking with Senate President Pro Tem Jimmy Higdon earlier Tuesday about what to expect in a pension reform bill, Adelmann said she was still dismayed to hear that lawmakers would look to shift public workers to defined-contribution pensions and stop the practice of allowing employees to accumulate sick time for their retirement payouts.

"I think we're going to see that pension bill in the next week," Adelmann said.

Lucy Waterbury, Save Our Schools Kentucky's vice president of legislative response, called bills passed during last year legislative session, namely one allowing public charter schools in Kentucky, and other issues on the horizon this year evidence of "a war on public education" here. 

She said further budget cuts could push school districts into fiscal situations similar to those seen in the days before the sweeping Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in 1990.

"Folks, we are headed down the path to pre-KERA days, so we better figure out how to fix it," Waterbury said.

"This is not a zero-sum game," she added. "It should never be when we're talking about children."

Waterbury also criticized another proposal, which hasn't been filed, that would offer tax credits for parents who home school their children or send them to private schools. 

Tiffany Dunn, who teaches English as a second language in Louisville, grew emotional as she said she hoped her daughter graduates from public school before the state's education system is unrecognizable.

Dunn said she's been a teacher for nine years and a former supporter of school choice, but her interest in advocating for public education was piqued five years ago as she started work at a school with more than 90 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch.

That experience sparked her belief that schools themselves weren't failing, but rather "Frankfort was."

"One in four children living below the poverty line should anger people, not the public school system and not the teachers," said Dunn, who identified herself as a Republican. "... This is a political issue, but this is not a partisan issue. These are our kids, and the type of conservatism going on right now in Frankfort is not the type of conservatism I want to be a part of."

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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