LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Although he said a pension reform package passed by the General Assembly late Thursday provided “relief” for current and retired teachers compared to previous versions, Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim said Friday that his organization will likely sue to prevent its implementation.

McKim criticized lawmakers for rushing an amended version of Senate Bill 151, which started as a bill on wastewater services before the House inserted pension reform language, through the legislature.

That hasty process would be the basis for JCTA’s legal challenge, McKim said, adding that the group could join Attorney General Andy Beshear if he decides to block SB 151 through a lawsuit.

Beshear said he believes the legislation runs afoul of the inviolable contract, particularly provisions that would not allow government workers to could sick leave toward retirement eligibility, but John Cox, spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus, pointed to past testimony from Kentucky Teachers Retirement System Deputy Executive Secretary Beau Barnes that sick days aren’t covered in the state’s inviolable contract.

 When asked whether JCTA would call for a strike in response to the pension reform bill, McKim said he sees a different venue where the group can protest the legislation.

“What we see as the next steps are challenging this in court because first of all we’ve protected all active teacher benefits and all retired teacher benefits with the exception of the sick day provision, which the attorney general has announced he’s going to challenge in court and we will certainly assist in that,” McKim said.

“The whole passage of the bill is something that we intend to challenge in court because they did not follow the law in the way they passed the bill.”

That’s a reference to the lack of an actuarial analysis on SB 151. Kentucky Retirement Systems staff said they saw no difference between the legislation and Senate Bill 1, the original pension reform bill, but KTRS did not provide an analysis of the bill.

SB 151 included a number of changes from a previous pension reform bill to ease concerns from teachers, namely dropping a provision that would have cut cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers from 1.5 percent to .75 percent until the KTRS reaches a 90 percent funding level. KTRS is about 56 percent funded now.

But McKim said he’s worried about the prospects of attracting new teachers to the profession under a hybrid cash balance retirement account, which combines aspects of defined-benefit and defined contribution plans, as laid out in SB 151.

The General Assembly also included a provision in SB 151 that would allow lawmakers to amend benefits for future teachers, adding to McKim’s concern about the state’s ability to recruit teachers to Kentucky classrooms.

While McKim said JCTA isn’t considering a statewide strike, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said all options are on the table for her group, which is planning to rally at the Capitol Monday morning.

Asked whether Jefferson County teachers could strike under its contract with JCPS, McKim said there’s a standing injunction in Kentucky against public worker strikes.

However, McKim said he believed strikes from public-sector employees was similarly forbidden in West Virginia, where teachers went on strike for nine school days over low pay.

“If 30,000, 40,000 educators across the state go out on strike, the rooms in the jails would be very crowded,” McKim said. “We may not be able to actually put all of those people in jail.”

Teachers in some areas of the state seemed to demonstrate their frustrations over the pension reform bill’s passage. Twelve school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, closed on Friday as thousands of teachers called in sick in the wake of Thursday’s vote.

“We certainly did not recommend this,” McKim said. “We understand how frustrated our teachers are about the way things are being done in Frankfort, the name-calling by the governor, the disrespect that they’ve been seeing, so we’re understanding of why we are where we are, but it’s not something that we called for.”

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio called the decision to closed schools on Friday one of, if not the, most difficult decisions he’s made since taking over at the district. More than 1,200 JCPS teachers had called in sick by 4:45 a.m. Friday.

“In the end, we just felt that there were too many classrooms that would not have a substitute teacher and it would put too much pressure on schools and possible provide a less than safe environment,” Pollio said in a video posted Friday.

“I want our teachers to know that I truly support everything that our teachers do. I believe our teachers need to be treated as professionals, compensated properly as professionals and provided the retirement benefits that they’ve been promised,” he added.

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

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