LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Dozens of teachers and supporters staged a “walk in” at Atherton High School on Monday, urging lawmakers to protect their pension benefits and public education funding in the waning days of this year’s legislative session.

The demonstration came about a week after Gov. Matt Bevin called teachers who oppose a pension reform bill that has stalled in the Kentucky Senate “selfish” and “uninformed” during an interview on Campbellsville radio station WVLC.

In a video posted on Saturday, Bevin said he respects teachers but the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System needs to be reformed before it runs out of money in 12 to 15 years. As a whole, the state’s pension systems face more than $40 billion in unfunded liabilities.

 Senate Bill 1 would cut cost-of-living raises for retired teachers from 1.5 percent each year to 1 percent as long until KTRS is at least 90 percent funded and place future hires in a hybrid cash balance pension rather than the current defined-benefit plan, among other proposed changes. The legislation is expected to save $3.2 billion over the next 20 years if enacted, but some Republican senators have balked at the proposal.

Tammy Berlin, an Atherton arts and humanities teacher and vice president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said Bevin’s critical comments toward opponents of SB 1 were “sad and unfortunate.”

“I think he does not understand the issues from our side even though he says that he understands because his grandmother was a teacher,” Berlin told WDRB News.

“He doesn’t understand what it’s like to live in a state where our pension is the only retirement that we have and we don’t get Social Security. I think it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t understand how important those COLAs are.”

Lori Balakos, who teaches math at Atherton, said Bevin’s characterization of teachers who oppose SB 1 “is ridiculous” considering the hours and out-of-pocket expenses that educators often put in for their students.

“I don’t think anybody that truly knows a teacher would ever believe that they’re selfish and to want what you were promised is not having a temper tantrum,” she said. “I just feel that walking that back after you say it is meaningless.”

While Bevin urged his viewers to contact lawmakers and tell them to support pension reform, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, told those at Monday’s rally to “keep the pressure on.”

“We have about eight more days in Frankfort,” Marzian said. “There is not a crisis in the teachers’ pension. We just need to fund it.”

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

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