Pension funding dominates Senator Max Wise’s town meeting

Posted May 16, 2018 at 1:57 pm

Jessica Conner Max Wise.psd

Clinton County High School math teacher Jessica Conner spent a few minutes talking with Kentucky Senator Max Wise last Tuesday at the conclusion of his town meeting presentation. Most of last week’s discussion surrounded the pension funding crisis in the Kentucky Retired Teacher’s Fund and as would have been expected, most of those attending last week’s meeting were current and retired. teachers.

Kentucky Senator Max Wise brought one of his annual “town meeting” sessions to Clinton County last week, and as could have been predicted, most of the hour-long gathering centered around the teacher’s pension/retirement plan situation.

The drastically underfunded Kentucky Teacher’s Retirement Fund saw educators from across the state of Kentucky converging on Frankfort during the recent legislative session to protest the system being proposed.

Appearing last Tuesday at the Clinton College and Career Center which also serves as the new central offices of the Clinton County Board of Education and Clinton County Area Technology Center on Ky. 90, Wise spoke to about 25 constituents for about an hour.

Nearly all of those present Tuesday during Wise’s presentation were educators that included a rounded mix of current teachers and administrators and others who were retired.

Wise (Rep.- Campellsville), whose seven county 16th Senate District includes Clinton County, is currently in his first term as a Kentucky Senator, serving since 2015.

Jumping straight into a discussion about what he quickly referred to as the “elephant in the room”, Wise talked about the tensions that he encountered during the often tumultuous legislative session when it came to dealing with teacher’s pension problems and education funding.

“It was the most trying session that we’ve had as a general assembly in probably the last 10 or 12 years.

“Issues dealing with teachers, issues dealing with the budget, issues dealing with the Governor and on down the line, it was very, very trying session,” Wise said. “And I will say, if we have sessions like this every year, then you are going to have to find yourself a new state senator, because I won’t go back. I won’t go back simply because it’s too much of a toll on a person.”

Wise chalked up much of the negativity of the recent session to a lack of good communication and even miscommunication on several levels.

“I think it started off very bad by coming out with a retirement plan – a pension plan, that wasn’t explained very well and communicated well to the people,” Wise said. “The way that plan was written up and drawn up, was something that I just couldn’t support.”

Wise further said he had a major problem with changing the employment terms with teachers who had already been hired, were working and were doing so under a signed contract. He added that his problems with the bill weren’t so much with new hires, but changing the game with teachers already on the job wasn’t something he could vote for.

Wise said he was one of the eight senators who had said they wouldn’t vote on Senate Bill 1, and he along with the others, remained hold up in a room for three hours while other senators tried to pressure them into voting.

“For three hours, I felt like I was on jury duty, Wise told those gathered in the Clinton College lobby. “I and those other seven were hold up in a room, waiting and for three hours I just stood there. My thoughts went back to my home and what I had told my people back home.”

Neither he nor any of the other seven senators backed down, and he noted that on that day, Senate Bill 1 died and they all went home for the weekend.

The Senator noted that in addition to dealing with the throng of protesting educators who made the trip to Frankfort, he and other legislators were also attacked on social media such as Facebook and through emails and in many cases, such as was the case in his personal experience, those attacks were false, damaging and even frightening

Wise told of one instance where someone had posted that he had, in fact, not only voted in the Senate Bill 1 consideration, but that he had voted “in favor” of the bill, calling that accusation “the most libelous, false statement I’ve ever had said against me.”

Wise added that after having contact with the person who posted that false statement, the author had it taken down, but that the damage to his reputation had already been done with the hundreds of people who had already seen and read the post.

He also noted that many of the threats that had been made against him via email, as well as threats made against his wife’s dental practice, actually brought on an investigation headed by the Kentucky State Police.

Wise said that while social media can be a good tool, it can also be, as it was in that case, very, very dangerous and detrimental.

On the other side of his social media experience in regards to the pension plan issue, Wise said that when he posted his disagreements with statements that were made by Governor Matt Bevin attacking teachers, it turned out to be on the opposite side of the scale.

Bevin issued statements after teachers swarmed the halls and lawns of the Frankfort capitol facilities in protest of the actions surrounding the pension plan, saying that while teachers had been in Frankfort and schools across the state had been closed, students were left home alone and had been subjected to being sexually abused, using drugs and put in danger.

Wise said he went onto his Twitter account posting his disagreements with the Governor’s statements, and about an hour later, his daughter came into the room where he was at his Campbellsville home, to tell him about his post.

“She said ‘Dad, you’ve gone viral'” Wise said, adding that his daughter told him his posts disagreeing with the Governor’s comments had over 1300 likes and had also resulted in comments from CNN and Fox News.

Wise said that he still wasn’t sure how the situation surrounding the pension funding controversy would eventually work out, as a potential lawsuit against the legislation by the Attorney General could send everyone back to the drawing board.

In discussing other bills, Wise reported that in some cases, particularly the budget bill, House Bill 200, issues were passed back and forth between the two chambers, changes were made, compromises were reached, and the bill was eventually passed.

“That’s how the process is supposed to work,” Wise noted.

As for the issue of Kentucky seeing private Charter Schools across the Commonwealth, Wise said that he didn’t feel those types of institutions would ever be an issue in rural areas of Kentucky, such as Clinton County and most of the counties in his seven-county district.

Adding that because he felt the Clinton County schools system was doing a good job of educating its students, the current regulations would keep private schools from opening Charger Schools here.

Explaining that the system in place would require Charter Schools to not only have an enrollment of 100 students before being allowed to open, it would also have to be approved by the local board of education and he didn’t think a local board would justify a need here.

Wise also reviewed other issues that had been dealt with during the most recent legislative session, including tax reform, again adding that he didn’t feel the changes made to the Kentucky tax system were necessarily fair changes.

“If we’re going to do tax reform in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it needs to be a comprehensive tax reform, Wise said. “What I mean by comprehensive, is it needs to affect everybody. If it’s raising the sales tax by one percent for all and lowering the personal state income tax to a lower level, it makes it fair. I could look at that and maybe get on board with that.”

He further noted that the new plan added sales tax for 17 service businesses, noting that the general public would be paying those taxes, including dry cleaning, lawn landscaping and others, but not all service businesses.

“I don’t think that’s fair. If we’re going to make it for some, make it for all, and we didn’t do that,” Wise said. “I didn’t vote for it.”

Wise also spent a brief period answering some questions and fielding comments from those who had gathered to hear the report, thanking everyone for their positive comments on his performance.

He spoke briefly about other issues – road plan, lack of passing a 10 cent gas tax, foster care, kinship care, workman compensation, child marriage, and several other issues.

Among the questions he answered was one regarding the “nickel tax” proposal that has been repeatedly mentioned as an option for the local school board, a tax that would be placed on the ballot, and if approved, used for specific projects, namely in the local case, the construction of a new high school.

Wise noted that going forward, mainly because the system had become such a “political hotbed” and had been involving “bad politics” the legislature had put measures in place that would no longer guarantee state matching funds should local voters approve a nickel tax.

The Senator continued to praise Kentucky educators and added that according to a study completed by Northern Kentucky University, young teachers entering the field did not have pensions or retirement as their top concern, but rather school safety.

“Safety – being safe from a shooter, safe from a student who may hit them or bully them or whatever, but safety was their number one concern,” Wise explained. “The second thing was funding for schools, not their personal pensions, but school funding, the third thing was class size and the fourth thing was pensions and retirement.”

Wise also said he hopes Kentucky continues to get good, young teachers despite the issues mentioned earlier that are affecting the occupation.

“I’m hoping people get into the teaching profession because they want to teach,” he said.

Wise, in a portion of his closing comments, noted that as first term senator, he was still learning, comparing his experience in Frankfort as a young student, “sitting in the kiddie area” while many of the older, more experienced senators were sitting at the “adult table – over there.”

“I may get there some day or I may decide to go home one day soon,” Wise said.