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North Laurel High School staff were among other public school personnel who participated in a “Walk In” on Thursday morning to protest Senate Bill 1, which imposes more cuts to state employees and public school personnel.

Their jobs require them to be at school in the early mornings.

But teachers and school personnel across the county arrived even earlier on Thursday morning to participate in a “Walk In” to protest even more cuts to state employees.

Senate Bill 1 has been highly unpopular for those vested in the state’s retirement program - an effort allegedly proposed to address the multi-million dollar deficit in the state’s retirement fund.

But for school personnel, most of those cuts are seemingly coming from the public education field in various aspects of school operations. And they wanted to take their concerns to the public.

Over two dozen staff at North Laurel High School walked to the roadside early Thursday morning to do just that.

With the same dedication and concern that school personnel show for their professions, NLHS staff braved cold temperatures and darkness to gather near the school’s gates to rally public support for their predicament.

Brittany Lewis and Tori Anders organized the event at NLHS and want the public to realize the full potential of the proposed cuts.

“We’re rallying to show the community what we’re facing because there is legislation out there that could hurt teachers, students and education in Laurel County,” Lewis said. “With the new legislation, there are cuts that could keep good people from going into the education field.”

But Lewis said the “Walk In” was not only in support of teachers and state employees, it was also to demonstrate their concern for the current and future students in the county. Now in her eighth year of teaching, Lewis said she chose teaching as a profession because she loves being around children and that most teachers feel the same way.

“We love the students and we want to make a difference and be a good influence to them,” Lewis continued. “Hopefully the students will see that sometimes you have to stand up for what’s right and they will know we are supporting them as well.”

Teachers at the other 17 county schools also participated in the “Walk In” on Thursday morning, with Keavy being the sole school to host its rally at the end of the school day at 3:30.

The dilemma of the state’s pension funding has long been a topic of concern in Frankfort,  but measures taken by Gov. Matt Bevin have proven quite controversial as a means to address the financial crisis. Some of those measures include extensive cuts to various state programs. But teachers are concerned with those that not only affect their retirement plans, but cuts to existing education programs.

The Family Resource and Youth Service centers, for example, recently underwent a 17 percent cut in their budget for the remainder of the school year. For some centers, that money is a major factor in helping students and families and could put some centers with a deficit in their ability to assist families as well as putting their budgets in the red.

Another proposal affecting regular school operations is a cut in the transportation budget. Many school systems across the state are reviewing their bus services in order to plan for those cuts that could affect hundreds of thousands of children across the state.

Under one proposal, teachers will be asked to contribute more of their own pay toward their health care costs and pension fund.

Most teachers feel it is unfair that legislators - who failed to make their promised contributions to the state employee pension fund - should be held accountable for their own actions. And with legislators continuing to give themselves pay raises and increases in their retirement funding, most teachers feel they have been lied to.

The state’s pension fund for teachers has created a crisis for many who have spent their lives in the public education field. Under Kentucky law, those in that pension program do not pay Social Security. Instead, those contributions were to be funded by the state legislature. The fall of the pension fund would leave those vested in the state’s retirement program with no financial security, as they cannot draw Social Security like many in the private sector can do - even state employees. Currently state employees are also vested in the state pension fund, but since they also pay in Social Security they still have a financial resource to depend on once they retire and/or reach the required age.

This dire future for teachers is what prompted North Laurel High science teacher Dustin Allen to launch a political campaign of his own. Although employed in the Laurel County school system, Allen lives in Bell County and drives back and forth each day. He sees the needs of students and teachers and wants a change in Frankfort. He took his message to the street on Thursday.

“There is an attack on public education,” he said. “Education is an investment in our community and the children. We can’t cut off the investment.”

As an educator himself, Allen feels he is well-versed in the needs of the people - especially those who dedicate their lives to teaching students to invest in their own abilities. He is very firm about the effects that Senate Bill 1 would have on the entire public educational system.

“If I am elected, I would vote no to any cuts to education,” he said.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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